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Old Timey Moderne

Lots of musicians try to put old-timey music in today's clothing but very few succeed. Cahalen Morrison & Eli West succeed on a number of levels which is saying a lot. They nail the old, tripping lightly around the Delmore Brothers and Blue Sky Boys and the like (taking me back to a childhood full of those artists alongside T. Texas Tyler, The Six Fat Dutchmen, Lefty Frizzell, Hank Williams and a number of lesser known musicians and singers my parents exposed me to), and at the same time overlap the present like the class instrumentalists they are. Seriously, folks. It might not sound like it at first, but there is some serious pickin' (and fiddlin') going on on The Holy Coming of the Storm, their latest offering to the musical gods. Seriously.

If I had to put a picture on The Holy Coming, it would me a montage--- backwoods shacks, dusty plains, old radio stations in the middle of nowhere. But mostly it would be people--- cowboys, sodbusters, mill workers, husbands and wives and their children dressed in hand-me-downs, lovers, gamblers and every other kind of outcast there was in not just the Old West, but everyplace the common man tried to scratch out a living sans currency. Forget your fancy floors and linoleum. This is dirt floor music swept with corn brooms and windows covered in oilcloth.

It's modernized, yes, but you only realize it after the fact. These guys are subtle. Their expertise on their instruments stands out only when you want it, the song and story laid out well enough on each track to make story and tune the focus. An example would be the acoustic guitar/mandolin/fiddle gathering on Weathervane Waltz, an instrumental daydream beautifully executed. Or the acapella duet My Bloody Heart which sounds more like a (well-recorded) field recording from the twenties. Or the fox-and-hound-ish Cutting In/Weymann's Last Run, an instrumental race worthy of, say, Nickel Creek, or even more apt, Tim O'Brien, who has spent years keeping mountain music alive. Or my favorite, the very Blue Sky Boys-sounding I'll Not Be a Stranger, which just about sends chills up my spine in its beauteous simplicity.

How I wish we could clean up the old recordings of the mountain and plains musicians, take the tinny sound and scratchy sounds of the acetates (if acetates they were) and bring the sound out. Of course, I wouldn't do it for a minute. That music lives as it was recorded and should stay that way as far as I'm concerned. That is why I welcome recordings like this. New music borne out of the old. You have to be special to make it work. These guys are special.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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