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Cahalen Morrison & Eli West

I'll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands – 2014 (Cahalen Morrison & Eli West)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Cahalen Morrison & Eli West

An interesting and intriguing development of the past few years in the Americana music scene is the emergence of a number of younger bands and performers whose repertoire is heavily laced with original songs and tunes, while showing a deep understanding of and abiding respect for tradition, particularly the old time "source" musicians and pioneers of the early decades of the country music business. Acts like the Stray Birds and the Carolina Chocolate Drops have drawn wide followings by unabashedly emulating the sounds that made the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers household names 80 years ago. Cahalen Morrison and Eli West, as this new release highlights, fit comfortably into that new breed.

Most of the songs are Morrison originals, and he's adept at writing in a variety of modes. "Livin' In America," a whimsical look at rural life, and "Off The Chama," a story of a lifetime of yearning that is ultimately rewarded are just two examples of the breadth and depth of the material. They also do a more than respectable job covering the Louvins ("Lorene") and Alice Gerrard ("Voices Of Evening").

The arrangements are stripped-down and entirely acoustic, and while there are guest instrumental appearances by the likes of Brittany Haas and Tim O'Brien (who produced), the best parts come in the vocal and instrumental interplay between Morrison and West by themselves, with West's guitar work standing out in particular, and both are excellent singers.

While some performers tend to allow one part of the music to overpower the other, Morrison and West demonstrate a marvelous knack for making the whole greater than the sum of the parts. Old time music is not just about string bands, and this duo proves that hard-edged "old country" music is still in fashion.