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Review: Cahalen Morrison & Eli West, The Holy Coming of the Storm

Cahalen Morrison & Eli West
The Holy Coming of the Storm
[Self-released (2010)]

The Rocky Mountains and Pacific northwest are as much home to great old-time music these days as the Appalachians and Atlantic coast ever were. Cahalen Morrison & Eli West bring a pair of clawhammer banjos (as well as their guitars, mandolins, and bouzoukis) to bear on The Holy Coming of the Storm, a set of 14 tunes that straddle that weird western folk line between bluegrass, country, and old-time string band music most famously blurred by Tim O’Brien. What they’ve produced here sounds as good musically as any of the traditional material in O’Brien’s catalog.

Morrison, the primary songwriter, is also blessed with an ear for natural-sounding lyrics, and he has more than enough authenticity to get away with sticking almost entirely to many tried and true (or you could say “outdated” if you’re feeling less charitable) subjects like cowhands, the sea, and frontier living. That means that a couple anonymous and “genuinely” traditional songs can slip in unnoticed in the last moments of the album and you’d hardly know it without looking at the credits.

An acapalla song, “My Bloody Heart” closes the first half nicely, and there is lots of good picking to keep up the energy throughout. But “My Lover, Adorned,” one of the more modern-sounding songs on the record, pops up early on and at just the right time to assure you that there is indeed room for innovation even in the most traditional-sounding material:

The duo is joined here by a few other multi-instrumentalists on a few tunes. Ryan Drickley’s fiddle is a particularly welcome dash of color whenever it appears.

—Jon Patton (Baltimore, MD)

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