The duet of Cahalen Morrison and Eli West suggests the infinite possibilities in sound, texture, and mood contained in a pair of voices and a couple stringed instruments. Counterpoint is the thing here. Eli’s guitar and bouzouki bravely lean out over the ledge of Cahalen’s solid banjo and mandolin superstructure. Eli’s voice softens Cahalen’s knife edged tone. They seem to look both within and without – as a writer, Southwest native Cahalen often stands on the line between sea and shore in his lyrics, while Eli, from the Pacific Northwest sings more of the prairie and the barroom. Their music bubbles and sighs, crashes and sails on this, their second recording. It’s both mysteriously poetic and true to life, as when Cahalen sings, “As any crow can tell you, the sky goes on forever, and as any man can tell you, true love is hard to find.” I love the singing and these songs that just keep getting better with each listening.
There’s a lot of faith and conviction that underpins these very able musicians. Their disarming reinvention is sly, brand new, and yet somehow ancient. Music like this doesn’t come along very often. This stuff just reassures me. I’m ready for whatever they have to bring.
Cahalen and Eli’s music evokes a brotherhood of the road that transcends the relatively short time they’ve been touring together. The two came together as adults in Seattle at the encouraging of famed Bluegrass DJ and musician Kevin Brown, who sensed a similar depth in each of their approaches to acoustic music. Eli was instantly drawn to Cahalen’s old soul approach to songwriting, and Cahalen to Eli’s affinity for unpredictable harmonies and syncopated rhythms. Their musical relationship grew over the course of six months and they began touring as a duo in the spring of 2010.
In deciding to capture this intense period of expression with The Holy Coming of the Storm, it was fitting that the pair work with Matt Flinner, whose mandolin has consistently defined the open, toneful sound of western Bluegrass music and whom Eli counts as a foundational musical inspiration. Working with Matt in Aaron Youngberg’s Swingfingers studio allowed them to delve into their reflective spirit – the sounds are captured with both an intimate closeness and a sense of air. One can hear the feeling of the moment in every ringing tone. The three-day live tracking process included not only producer Matt on mandolin, tenor guitar and bouzouki, but also Eric Thorin on bass, Ryan Drickey on fiddle, and Aaron Youngberg, who engineered and played 3-finger banjo on one song. The material is primarily original, with “My Lover Adorned” being the very first collaboration between the two. The classics “I’ll Not Be A Stranger” and “Kingsfold” (with the same melody as “The Star of the County Down”) round things out with the timelessness of tradition.
Cahalen and Eli bring us the great musician’s willingness to hold things back, to keep the tension strung, to cherish the beauty and not let it all out at once, like the balancing of heat and cold in the highest western mountains, where the days are dry and dusty and full of the smell of pine but the nights are cold and crisp and find you wanting to get next to a fire in a cabin, burning wood that crackles, that is part of you – one piece of wood makes the worn neck of an old banjo and one ends up in the fire, one ends up in a log cabin wall and one ends up split in two by lightning. And so go our hearts – Eli and Cahalen sing about all of it. No note is left unreflected upon. They understand that when it comes to music, we are all on the receiving side, even when we are the ones playing it.
It takes a certain drive to declare that you have something to say; but it takes something else, a willingness to explore the depths of your emotions in a different way, to have something worth saying. On the Holy Coming of the Storm, you will find both of these qualities delivered in ways that ring through long after the notes have stopped.”
“Cahalan and Eli are making music that the world needs.”
“This is quite extraordinary!”
Bob Harris, BBC Radio 2
“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.”
Dustin Ogdin, No Depression
“In a city and era that can seem crowded with ‘genericana,’ there’s no chance of Morrison & West getting lost amongst the new crop of beards in Ballard. Because when someone says Morrison & West are of another era, they’re not talking about warm Laurel Canyon harmonies; they’re talking dust-bowl dirges, lightening-quick finger-picking on a clawhammer banjo, and twang that recalls tintype portraits. Morrison & West’s vocals are more like Dan Tyminski, than Graham Nash.”
Abbey Simmons, Sound On The Sound
“The easy critical impulse is to point out that Cahalen Morrison & Eli West sound like they’ve stepped out of a crackly record or wax cylinder from the 1920s. And it’s easy for a reason: They’ve got the kind of classic voices that beautifully complement roots music and, sure, they stick to the old-timey instruments. But any schmuck can chew on a corncob pipe and call it a nostalgia act. Morrison & West can write gorgeous, solid songs with harmonies that’ll wake you up in the middle of the night when your subconscious remembers how fine they are. That kind of songwriting isn’t nostalgic. It lasts, is all.”
Paul Constant, The Stranger, Seattle
“I love this album”
Frank Hennessy, BBC Radio Wales