Join us Thursday, April 23, 2015 at 7:30pm for a live show with Americana roots duo Cahalen Morrison & Eli West. Tickets are $10 at the store or online.
About Cahalen Morrison & Eli West
It means something that the word about Americana roots duo Cahalen Morrison & Eli West spread first among musicians. Their debut album was passed around the ranks of some of the best American roots bands, raved about to fans online, and seen as a model to strive for in songwriting and musicianship. In this way, you could think of Cahalen & Eli as musician’s musicians. They’re the artists that other artists run to see at a festival. This is because their music seems effortlessly simple, but is complex enough to engage us far beyond the usual way we listen to roots music. Cahalen Morrison’s songwriting is as much informed by the dark lyricism of Cormac McCarthy as it is by Appalachian stringband songs, and Eli West’s angular, racing arrangements owe as much to the speed and aggression of early jazz as they do to bluegrass greats like Bill Monroe. Together they make music that draws from the well of American tradition, but reshapes these traditions into beautiful new forms.
With their new album, I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands, Cahalen Morrison & Eli West have perfected their chemistry as a duo, falling into long-form instrumental grooves and threading their vocal harmonies together as tightly as a weaver. Produced by Grammy-winning artist Tim O’Brien, they recorded the album at the Colorado Rockies studio of Aaron Youngberg. Fiddler Ryan Drickey returned for the album, as did Youngberg on bass, and Tim O’Brien joined in for some numbers as well, but the focus here belongs on the musical intimacy shared between Cahalen & Eli. As instrumentalists, their interplay is revelatory. It’s near impossible to tell which one is playing which instrument, with the mandolin, clawhammer banjo, and coustic guitar shared between both. Their melody and harmony lines on these instruments duck and weave around each other; an interconnected roots system of music that seems to have no beginning or end. Their vocals intertwine as well, with Eli’s harmonies nudging Cahalen’s melodies into new and unexpected directions. Here they trade the lead more than ever, with Eli moving to the front on songs like “Pocket Full of Dust”, or a cover of the gospel song “Green Pastures.” The traditional songs covered here are chosen with great care, from renowned old-time singer Alice Gerrard’s slow dirge “Voices of Evening” to bluegrass icon Larry Sparks’ heartfelt love song “Natural Thing to Do” and country legends The Louvin Brothers’ “Lorene.”
Cahalen Morrison’s songs are as beautiful and threadbare as ever, and he uses archaic imagery not as a revivalist exercise but because he’s looking for older words with older meanings to paint his imagery of the American West. As a songwriter, he’s expanded his songs with a lighter touch, as can be heard on “James is Out” about an ornery mule, or “Livin’ In America,” a fun but biting song about American privilege. This is probably thanks to his recent side project writing country songs, which brought him back to his youth in rural New Mexico. But his raw, transcendent power as a lyricist is still on display here. Songs like “Fiddlehead Fern” or “Down in the Lonesome Draw” showcase his uncommon ability to use evocative natural imagery to channel human emotions.
In the end, it’s all about the breath. As our digital world closes in on us, smothering our senses with an overload of information, it’s a rare thing that can make us stop to breathe– to pause in peaceful reflection on the simple beauty of a good thing made by hand. Cahalen Morrison & Eli West make music that will help you remember to breathe.