Merry-Making Music: Yo-Yo Ma and Friends
It’s hard to predict the tides of artistic expression, and I never expected it, but the fiddle, the banjo and traditional music in general, are coming back in a big way. Old Crow Medicine Show, The Wood Brothers and The Avett Brothers keep making great music and Edward Sharpe, Mumford & Sons and many others have joined the mix in the last couple years. But the truest sign that Bluegrassy traditionals have returned to the mainstream is the incredible new album by Yo-Yo Ma, The Goat Rodeo Sessions.
Yo-Yo Ma, the National Medal of the Arts winner, the cellist whose played a duet with Condoleeza Rice and Obama’s inauguration, the man featured on “Sesame Street” and “Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood”, has put out an LP with three virtuosos of the bluegrass scene: Edgar Meyer, Stuart Duncan and Chris Thile.
The album is light and fun; the casual performance style can be heard in the music. But don’t get me wrong; the performances on the record are amazing, almost flawless really.
I am not a classically trained musician and not much of a classical music fan, but there is something about Yo-Yo Ma that appeals to me. Maybe it is the fact that I subconsciously associate him with Big Bird, but I think it has at least as much to do with the way he carries himself. He is arguably the greatest cellist ever, yet he never seems snooty and doesn’t just play the hits (what do they scream at classical music concerts? I’m guessing it’s not “Play Freebird”) – he strives to keep his music fresh and relevant. It was this desire in Ma and the other musicians that hatched the idea for the album and also pushed them to the level that they reached during the sessions.
As Ma said in an NPR.org interview on Nov. 11: “We like to take calculated risks to go to the edge.”
That’s exactly what he did in making this album. Ma does not need to crossover – he is a legend in the classical world. And yet, with this new LP, he’s proven that he can go note for note with bluegrass legends and make something authentically Southern and absolutely gorgeous.
And if your loved one likes new-age old school traditional music (for lack of a better term), here are three more albums that will make them merry this holiday season:
1) The Avett Brothers – Mignonette
The Avett Brothers are a folk rock trio featuring Scott and Seth Avett, on banjo and guitar respectively, and Bob Crawford on the stand-up bass. This album is my favorite by the group; it is a collection of songs thick in truth, harmony and top-notch picking. “One Line Wonder” is an absolutely beautiful track.
2) Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More
You probably don’t need me to tell you how great this album is; Mumford & Sons has deservedly blown-up this year – they won British Album of the Year in the BRIT Awards and have two 2011 Grammy Nominations. Their combination of strings, vocal harmonies and intriguing lyrics make them a joy to listen to, but what really makes the album special is the fullness of sound. Listen to Sigh No More once and I bet you’ll need to listen to it again and again.
3) Old Crow Medicine Show – O.C.M.S.
I’m sure you’ve heard Old Crow Medicine Show’s song “Wagon Wheel”; it is fun, sing-songy and a little overplayed. But the band is much more than a one-hit wonder and this album (which does feature “Wagon Wheel”) is a perfect way to get acquainted with Old Crow. “We’re All In This Together” is a gorgeous song that shows another side of the band.
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