Cahalen Morrison & Eli West Our Lady of the Tall Trees

When Morrison and West released their debut The Holy Coming of The Storm in early 2011 it received almost universal acclaim and ended up in many a top ten album list at the end of the year. Their unique blend of studied antiquity with their songwriting skills and superb picking and singing struck a chord with listeners and they topped it off with a triumphant Celtic Connections appearance.
18 months later and we have the follow up, Our Lady of the Tall Trees, an album that continues in much the same vein as its predecessor which is tantamount to saying that it’s essential listening. Morrison continues to write the bulk of the material here with one traditional song offered up. However this time around there are three contemporary cover versions included, the very familiar Townes Van Zandt’s Loretta, Norman Blake’s Church St. Blues and closing the album Garry Harrison’s Red prairie Dawn, a nice touch as it serves to pay tribute to Harrison, an Illinois fiddler and lover of old time music who sadly died earlier this year.
It’s a measure of how successful Morrison and West are in creating their sepia toned world that their version of Loretta jars the impression that we are listening to an archived recording from the dusty old days. Theirs is a fine reading but the familiarity of the song accords it an outsider status, a glitch in the matrix if you like, however the instrumental Red Prairie Dawn ends the album with a flourish, a beautiful tune lovingly picked and plucked on banjo and mandolin it captures the essence of old time country music.
As on the debut album however it’s Morrison’s songs that support any claim to greatness here. He has the ability to capture and recreate old time ballads, tales as strong as an Oak with language that seems to be hewn from ancient timber. It’s reminiscent of the best of the English folk rock revival of the seventies when tales of yore were married to a contemporary sound. Morrison and West however eschew drums and amplification creating their tapestries using guitar, banjo, mandolin and bouzouki. The words do hark back to the richness and poetry embodied in the King James Bible. When they sing

“Although starched your apron may now be, it’ll lose it’s shape in the water. But go swimmeth thee to the anchor most near, a lady does not often falter. Oh the winds they blow and the tide she swells, brings life into the beaches. Oh that seem between the Earth & Tide, from land that sea is not quite so wide”

one could be reading from that old good book. Morrison packs his songs with such lyrics on A Lady Does Not Often falter, All I Can Do and All For The Sake of Day. Meanwhile the front porch plucking on their instruments offers some fine moments of beauty with the mandolin solo on All For The Sake of Day especially standing out.
Ancient and modern, homespun and literate, it’s a standout album from a pair who astonish and exhilarate. Do give it a listen.

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