Review: Cahalen Morrison & Eli West – The Holy Coming of the Storm
Discovering Cahalen Morrison & Eli West reminds me that there is an upside to digital technology shaking up the music industry. I came to their music through twitter, when their promoter, Hearth Music, began following my feed. I followed Hearth’s feed in turn where I found their website and began perusing their sound files. After only a few moments of listening to the taut harmonies and buoyant string play on Morrison & West’s “Lost Lovin’ Gal,” I knew these guys were something special.
Here’s an upstart band from Seattle with a CD not yet released (it’s available January 29th, though you can download the album on Amazon now). Were it not for twitter, a low-rent music writer in Nashville like myself might have had to wait around until they made a name for themselves over months or years before being turned on to them. I should say, however, if there is any justice in the world, these guys will make a name for themselves in short time. There is a dirt-stained nobility to their music, an acoustic blend of strings, harmonies, and songwriting that hearkens back to the roots of America and beyond. There is an irony to finding music this rustically hand-crafted through a digital chirp, but maybe that’s half the pleasure. Knowing that old world artistry has evolved so beautifully into this digitized world is pleasantly reassuring.
Morrison & West’s debut album, The Holy Coming of the Storm takes elements of old-time, bluegrass, and folk to craft a sound that relies on tradition but stakes out its own territory. I’m tempted to describe the songs as pensive and austere, but that implies this is music for the head more than the heart. That is definitely not the case. It is both, as witnessed by my unconsciously tapping toes when listening to “Won’t Be Long,” an up tempo tune full of fiddle riffs, bluesy mandolin runs, and some head-shaking high-lonesome harmonies. Perhaps “elegant” is the word I’m looking for? No, that makes the music sound a little too precious, leaving a wholly inaccurate impression. This music has a rugged, earthy quality but also an organic polish. It reminds me of a rough stone turned smooth from years of exposure to the bustling currents of a mountain stream. Similarly, the melodic notes spilling from Morrison’s clawhammer banjo have the effect of sporadic water drops splashing amidst the steady rush of West’s guitar rhythms and runs in “My Lover Adorned.” The song’s wistful narrative sounds as ageless as any English folk ballad passed down through generations. I suppose I should resign myself to the fact that most adjectives are too limiting to attach to this music, in part because the duo does so many different things well.
|Cahalen Morrison (left) & Eli West|
In the fairly straight-ahead bluegrass romp, “Since You Took Your Leave,” a Scruggs style banjo and steady mandolin chop keep the tempo driving. However, the tune manages to sneak in some subtle but clever jazz-inflected vamping, reminding the listener that a restive musical spirit is always lurking within this collaboration. A somber ballad of languishing love, “Fleeting Like The Days” offers pining lyrics that eventually give way to inspired instrumental breaks exchanged between the musicians. The acapella “My Bloody Heart,” eschews instruments altogether, content with only two voices that sound as if they were made for one another. As if to remind the listener that these guys can also make their instruments sing, the very next track, “Cutting In/Weymann’s Last Run” is an instrumental with stirring counterpoint melodies exchanged between banjo and fiddle. Despite the mix of influences and styles, The Holy Coming of the Storm is a decidedly cohesive album, defining itself through its craft.
That sense of craft is what I find most comelling about this album. One gets the feeling that either of these musicians could step forward and take over with emphatic, egocentric playing and singing. Instead, they seem to have a profound reverence for the music and a considered appreciation for the whole of their endeavors. In a twitter-ized world where people (like myself) feel inspired to blather every 140 character or less thought that pops in their head, I’m glad that Cahalen Morrison and Eli West take a more patient approach to their craft. That said, U should totally chk them out b/c it’s pretty gr8 music.
For information on tour dates and other info, click here for Cahalen Morrison & Eli West’s website. A physical CD can now be purchased here at CD Baby.
Dustin Ogdin is a freelance writer and journalist based in Nashville, TN. His work has been featured by MTV News, the Associated Press, and various other stops in the vast environs of the world wide web. His personal blog and home base is Ear•Tyme Music. Click below to read more and network with Dustin.