Some musicians you come to late. They are fully formed, have found their voice, their place, their history writ. Some you catch out of the corner of your eye when they’re still swirling around in the heat and dust of creation. There’s a particular excitement around the latter and it only grows as expectations hold up.
I first heard picker Cahalen Morrison sometime around the end of 2009 or beginning of 2010. He had a low-fi old-time recording out called Old-Timey and New Fangled and it was raw and sweet. Meanwhile, in Seattle, another picker, Eli West, was playing around town and, like his soon-to-be partner Morrison, was adding multiply instruments to his name. The two began to play together and in 2010 put out a beautiful old-time album called The Holy Coming of the Storm. Now we have the follow-up.
Our Lady of the Tall Trees
Our Lady of the Tall Trees, is due out early September, and it is a seriously fine album. There is a bounce to their music, I don’t know how else to say it, but it sounds like home.
Like many who’ve come before they wear their influences on their coat sleeves – Norman Blake, Townes Van Zandt, Bruce Molsky, all heady company to keep. Both men are phenomenal musicians and I believe would do Molsky and Blake proud. I continue to be terribly impressed by how intricate and clean their playing is, but still retains a loose, warm feeling that so many pyrotechnic players have lost or never had.
They also do Van Zandt proud. He is so often covered as to be almost cliche, yet Morrison and West’s take on Loretta is one of the best covers of the man I’ve ever heard. Their version is so simple, a musical conversation between two guys that have played together often and love many of the same things. They turn it into a tight brother harmony piece and the mix keeps their voices way up front highlighting the wonderfully lilting melody.
Then there is the gorgeous title cut, Our Lady of the Tall Trees, written in a Knoxville kitchen and is the centerpiece of the album. It sits somewhere between the poetry of Robert Hunter and William Carlos Williams. A nice place to be, I believe.
This is an album that doesn’t think too much about tradition, because it doesn’t have to. It doesn’t have to think too much about being a dusty ol’ relic either, because it doesn’t have to. It’s for the old-time crowd and it’s not for the old-time crowd. If this is the future of acoustic Americana then we are in the best possible hands. These guys should have a cult following. It’s for where good music is heard.