Music Review: Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile – The Goat Rodeo Sessions

Hi all!

Somewhere, the music gods are smiling over the holidays. The stars aligned and brought classical music together with Bluegrass, achieving some truly astounding results. But let me take a step back.

Yo-Yo Ma is a world-class cellist who has made a career not only out of gorgeous classical music, but for pushing boundaries and collaborating with musicians of any and all genre – from A Capella maestro Bobby McFerrin to one of the pre-eminent violinists of the last century Itzhak Perlman – not to mention working with orchestras around the world and helping out with music education efforts worldwide. Thankfully, the world has recognized his efforts and he’s been awarded multiple awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010, and serves as a UN Messenger of Peace and on the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities.

And now he can add a collaboration with Bluegrass artists Chris Thile (mandolin – member of Nickel Creek and the Punch Brothers), Edgar Meyer (bass), and Stuart Duncan (fiddle). The result is a collection of songs in The Goat Rodeo Sessions that not only debuted at #1 on the Bluegrass, Classical, and Classical Crossover Billboard charts, but has made it to #18 on the Billboard Top 200 and at #11 on Soundscan’s Digital Album Chart. And if all that attention isn’t enough to get you to listen this album, I encourage you to watch this video of their performance on The Colbert Report:

Though I’ve listened to my share of classical music over the years, one of my more recent discoveries has been the life and energy in Bluegrass music. Groups like Crooked Still and the Greencards have brought a new joy to my ears in recent years. So I think I was on a collision course with this album from the first time I heard the quartet play in the videos on Colbert.

What blows my mind is the control of these musicians and the dynamic passion that ebbs and flows through every note. Sure, there are some slower songs – but damn if these folks don’t fly across the strings. Chris Thile sums it up nicely – “The arrangements on the record are ‘like a reverse game of Jenga‘” he says, “trying to get all the players to land at the same place at the end of the songs.” It’s rare these days that I’ll find that a song is so quiet that I need to turn it up to hear the beginning, and yet with songs like “Here and Heaven,” I had to just that – and then to have it build to such a satisfying crescendo with the vocals and harmonies of Aoife O’Donovan and Thile… I literally am in heaven every time I hear it.

“Quarter Chicken Dark” has a groove that just sticks in my brain long after the song is done, forcing me to go back and listen to it again before too long. Meyer’s bass merged with Ma’s cello drives this song from the bottom up. And it’s one of those grooves that rises and falls and I swear they could just keep playing this one song from sunset to sunrise and I’d still be listening. “Less is Moi” has the same addictive quality with a different riff that uses Duncan’s plectrum banjo and Thile’s mandolin to drive things forward.

So just what is a “goat rodeo” you may ask… Mr. Ma puts it like this – “If there were forks in the road and each time there was a fork, the right decision was made, then you get to a goat rodeo.” I don’t know about you, but this album proves that sometimes you can put lightning in a bottle. The Goat Rodeo Sessions is now among my favorite albums to listen to for no reason at all but the sheer pleasure of doing so. I can only hope that the success of this album will lead to more collaborations in the future!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.com here.

–Fitz

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Music Review: Fifty Miles to Chicago – Andrew Ripp

Hi there!

You know those moments where you listen to a song and immediately start to get chills down your spine? That’s my cue that an artist or a particular song resonates somewhere deep within me. Andrew Ripp‘s song “Dresden Wine” gave me chills. And based on the video of him playing the song live in the studio, I was introduced to his souful, unique voice and led by the nose to the rest of his album…

Fifty Miles to Chicago has an honest spirit about it that’s hard to describe. Ripp is a storyteller. And like all great storytellers, he focuses on relationships. Some romantic, some friendly, and some about the relationship with yourself, which is often the hardest one to keep.

The music on this album moves from rock to rock ballad and back again with little effort. And Ripp seems as comfortable at the piano as he is with a guitar, which proes he’s got some serious music chops.

“This record really portrays who I am not only as an artist but as a person,” says Ripp of writing the album. “Honesty goes a long way because you can see right through it when somebody is slopping words on a page. And I feel like we took the time that was necessary to really work through every word.”

Ripp worked with songwriter Randy Coleman and recevied help from bass player Randy Coleman (formerly a member of Tonic) as producer. But this is all Ripp. He funded the album himself and recorded it in Lavery’s home studio in Los Angeles. He definitely was a part of every step of the production and you can hear that in the album. Ripp brought in Pete Maloney (Dishwala, Tonic), Will Hollis (Eagles’ keyboard player), and steel guitar player Eric Heywood (Ray LaMontagne). This crew can play.

As I mentioned at the beginning, my favorite song on the album is definitely “Dresden Wine”, but I’m a sucker for powerful piano-driven ballads.

But that’s far from my only favorite on Fifty Miles to Chicago. It opens with a groove that made it difficult not to get up and dance. “Get Your Smile On” has almost a Jason Mraz-feel to it with the rhythmic cadence of the lyrics along with the guitar and drums. He doesn’t stop there though, instead building into a more organic fusion of rock riffs that spill back into the lyrical flow…

“Miracle of You” feels almost like a collaboration between Sting and Jason Mraz. The music has a sweet Caribbean beat and light guitar that blends seamlessly with his unique voice and some great harmonies in places.

And “But You Saved My Life” has a sweet acoustic riff that leads into a blues/rock riff reminiscent of the classics from the 70s, right down to the organ and the groovy back-beats.

Ripp has an amazing sound on Fifty Miles to ChicagoL that will be tough to top. He’s been playing with Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Fiction Family (Jon Foreman of Switchfoot and Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek), Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers, and others.

And as if touring and working on the album didn’t keep him busy, he recently did an overseas tour playing for the troops and spends time volunteering for a group called the Art of Elysium, who uses time donated by artists (musicians, actors, and so on) to spend time with kids in hospitals to give them a boost.

If you like great rock music, Andrew Ripp should be in your collection. Be sure to check him out and pick up a copy of Fifty Miles to Chicago.

–Fitz

p.s. Look for Fifty Miles to Chicago at your local movie store or online.

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