ALBUMS: A Well-Synched Supergroup

Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile offer hope that Not Our First Goat Rodeo suggests there’s more to come

Yo-Yo Ma, Stewart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile Not Our First Goat Rodeo, Sony Masterworks 2020

Artist: Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile

Album: Not Our First Goat Rodeo

Label: Sony Masterworks

★★★★ (4/5 stars)


Credit whoever came up with the unusual idea combining the talents of classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma, innovative bassist Edgar Meyer, and a pair of progressive musicians who have helped reinvent and revitalize the basics of bluegrass, multi-instrumentalist Stuart Duncan and mandolinist Chris Thile.

If the name of the foursome’s new album, Not Our First Goat Rodeo, suggests a natural symmetry, then suffice it to say the it’s decidedly descriptive.

Not that they were entirely strangers. The quartet’s first collaboration, The Goat Rodeo Sessions, proved their potential.  Nevertheless, the immediate challenge once again is trying to come up with a category that allows the music to find an easy fit. Or is it? Instrumental music has often defined boundaries, be it in the form of Miles Davis, Terry Riley, Bill Evans or a myriad of other musicians who dared to push the parameters and venture into other realms where definition can’t be determined.

 

VIDEO: Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile with Aoife O’Donovan perform “The Trappings”

These four musicians do much the same, and with an occasional vocal assist from singer Aoife O’Donovan, a significant force on her own, they still manage to keep the music seemingly effortless and accessible throughout. That’s not to say the music isn’t compelling. It is throughout.  certain selections such as “Your Coffee Is a Disaster,” “757 mil” and “Every Note a Pearl,” sometimes sound like a random combination of plucks and strums apparently borne out of a series of jams that then find a form. Other pieces convey a decided shift in tone and treatment — the sobering “Waltz Whitman” with its hint of homespun sentiment, the gentle caress that underscores “Not For Lack of Trying,” the rousing hillbilly-like hoedown shared via “Voila!” and the chirpy, stealth-like trappings found in “We Were Animals.” The songs, written by Duncan, Thile and Meyer, with an occasional assist from O’Donovan, offer an unexpected turn with each encounter, creating a mix of skill and sentiment. It not only finds the four musicians solidly in sync, but also shaping melodies that are, by turns, both elusive and intriguing, rarified and yet remarkable.

The fact that four disparate artists — a fifth including O’Donovan — are able to create such imaginative melodies while finding common ground is an accomplishment in itself. Not Our First Goat Rodeo hopefully won’t be their last. 

 

 

 

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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