Thursday, July 28, 2011

Review - Cahalen Morrison & Eli West, 'The Holy Coming of the Storm'

Cahalen Morrison & Eli West

The debut album of two regulars on the American bluegrass scene and one of extraordinary sensitivity

Cahalen Morrison and his powerful voice have been around on the American circuit for a while, as has his talent on the fingerstyle guitar, lap slide, mandolin and clawhammer banjo.  As has the equally multi-instrumental, equally talented Eli West.  Appearing at the same festivals, clubs and picking camps and harbouring a common appreciation of the mountain folk traditions many have seen it as merely a matter of time before the pair got together.  This album marks the arrival of a major new talent, heralded by a glowing recommendation by renowned producer, musician and Appalachian expert Dirk Powell.  ‘Cahalen and Eli’s music’, he says, ‘evokes a brotherhood of the road that transcends the relatively short time they’ve been touring together.’

His reflections on the pair praise their channelling of the natural mountain spirit into their songs, its strength and its ultimate vulnerability.  Ironic, then, that they are both from Seattle.  But, really, you don’t need to be an expert to realise that the boys have hit upon something.  What with Cahalen’s blues edge, they could be singing songs of great passion and get away with it.  But their lyrics are simple; their twelve self-penned songs are full of images of nature and a domestic life, really quite humble.  At the songs have a definite intricacy, the images placed next to each other suggestively form narratives that are odd and beguiling.  There is a sensitivity here that runs throughout their style as Cahalen’s vocals are balanced out in harmony and the pair just let the music speak for itself.  In fact, one of the early tracks of the album neatly introduces the picking into the lyrics as it takes the place of the doctor’s orders in On God’s Rocky Shore (‘I went to the doctor, and the doctor said…’).

However West is not overshadowed.  Given the lead vocals in possibly my favourite track of the album, My lover, Adorned, his voice, the softer of the two, is always there in background or in foreground.  Even here it is wonderfully gentle as it adds another layer of depth to the lyrics: ‘I’m just a man with all but a plan, with all but a plan, doin’ what any man would do.’

They are on British shores come the end of this year, digging up their family histories and doing a bit of touring on the side.  If it their investigations add more depth to their music then all the better.  If not then at least it brings this exciting bluegrass duo into UK venues. Katy Browse

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