There’s something exceptionally challenging about the duo format. Two voices, two instruments—nothing to hide behind. Every second of space is as important as each note you play.
From Bill & Charlie Monroe to Darol Anger & Mike Marshall, many traditions have been evoked, challenged, and stretched in the context of a duo. I’d not heard Cahalen Morrison & Eli West before Our Lady Of The Tall Trees, their second album together, but it’s apparent on all 12 tracks that they’ve assimilated bluegrass, old-time, folk, and cowboy music and found a way to make the old sound new again. Their voices manage to sound both weathered and fresh, winding tightly around each other and making the whole sound better than the sum of its parts. They skillfully arrange pairings of intertwining guitar, mandolin, clawhammer banjo, bouzouki, and lap slide guitar, keeping each track fresh and vibrant.
What’s most impressive is that the bulk of their material are Morrison originals, and when they stand side to side with older material such as the traditional “The Poor Cowboy” or Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta,” they fit seamlessly. Songs such as “All I Can Do” and the title track seem to grow naturally out of traditional folk themes, yet still resonate with a freshness and vibrancy which you just don’t find every day.
So if you think there’s nothing new to be heard in the duo form, give Our Lady Of The Tall Trees a listen and see if you’re as pleasantly surprised as I was. (www.cahalenandeli.com.)HK