“There’s a natural language of American music that flows from a place where strength and tenderness meet.” So begins the liner note for this fabulous album. Written by Dirk Powell, a man who is an expert on Appalachian music, these notes describe the album far better than your current reviewer could ever hope to achieve. However, to read the rest you’ll need to get the album. It is indeed a mighty work. Coming from a pair in their twenties who met up in Portland a few years ago its astonishing at times when listening to it to recollect that this is not the result of some grizzled old timers sitting around a pot bellied stove with an enthusiastic young researcher taping their efforts for the Smithsonian Institute.
Morrison and West play banjo, guitar, mandolin, bazouki and lap steel. They sing together in the best fashion of the brothers Louvin and Stanley. They write songs that sound as if they have been disinterred from dusty archives. Of the 14 songs here there are two traditionals but in a blindfold test it would be hard to pick them out. The lyrics and imagery of the originals cleave fast to traditional mores with spare plucking and weathered voices sounding like apocalyptic messengers on On God’s Rocky Shore. It’s not all doom and gloom however as they deliver the jaunty country hop of Since You Took Your Leave, the gospel tinged Over There and the moving Weathervane Waltz. The heart of the album however is the stark and dark moments that chill and thrill at the same time. To go back to Powell’s liner note “where the days are dry and dusty and full of the smell of pine but the nights are cold and crisp and you find you wanting to get next to a fire in a cabin, burning wood that crackles.” There, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Morrison and West are all over us for the next few weeks. Several Scottish dates, radio slots and a film on BBC Alba following Morrison as he traces his Scottish roots. If you get the chance to see them you’d be nuts not to.