By Larry Stephens
Eli West has played with John Reischman, Tony Furtado, Cahalen Morrison and Tim O’Brien, but his name may be new to many. His first solo album is based on an unusual concept: choose six compositions from a range of composers and genre and present each, first as a song (i.e., sung) and then a tune (i.e., played, only). I don’t recall ever seeing this concept used for a CD before. The result will likely be called roots or Americana because there is no other handy description.
Included is “The Lone Pilgrim,” a traditional number done by many including Bob Dylan and Doc Watson.
“I came to the place where the lone pilgrim lay
And patiently stood by his tomb
When in a low whisper I heard something say:
How sweetly I sleep here alone.”
It’s done here with West and Anna Roberts Gevault singing a slightly dissonant harmony with only an open–back banjo for accompaniment. The tune is fuller, slightly faster paced, with West playing guitar, Reischman playing mandolin, Christian Sedelmeyer fiddle and Ethan Jodziewicz adding some bass lead. Jodziewicz is very active on the various tunes. The tune version is lively in respect to the sung version. The tune of the other P.D. cut, “Rainbow Midst Life’s Willows”, is quiet, contemplative and includes electric guitar by the great jazz guitarist Bill Frisell and vocals by Elizabeth Laprelle on the song cut.
The tunes are not simple repeats of the songs. Each of the pair has its own voice. The other selections include “Give Me Your Love and I’ll Give You Mine” (George Shuffler, Vasser Clements, J Buchanan are credited with the arrangement but it’s a Carter Family song); a Dori Freeman song, “If I Could Make You My Own,” and she sings on this CD with West; “Lonesome Valley” is credited to Woody Guthrie but the song was around before he was; and a Waylon Jennings/Billie Joe Shaver number, “You Ask[ed] Me To,” one of Jennings’ big hits. Jennings did it as honky–tonk. It’s the song with the most drive on this CD but a far cry from honky–tonk. The tune version is upbeat with a fiddle lead and some great arco bass by Jodziewicz with considerable vamping throughout.
An interesting way of listening is to play the song then jump to the tune to see how much their interpretations vary. They have freedom to improvise on the tunes and they do so with abandonment.If you’re a bass fan you have to hear Jodziewicz work on the tunes. This is an unusual approach to making a CD and it falls into the hinterland of “roots,” so you can only guess at what it may sound like to you, but it’s worth listening to, it’s enjoyable.