Album Review: Goat Rodeo Sessions

I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks that The Grammy’s can be somewhat of a joke at times. I don’t care whether it’s the politics behind the show or if people actually enjoy their music, but there is something intrinsically wrong with artists likes 2 Chainz, LMFAO, or Carly Rae Jepson being nominees this year. What’s even more repulsive is the fact that Drake’s Take Care won “Best Rap Album”. Really? You couldn’t think of any better rap albums?

Complaints aside, The Grammy’s are never a complete disappointment. There always end up being quite a few qualified musicians winning awards. I was particularly pleased with this year’s winner for “Best Folk Album”. The album Goat Rodeo Sessions was not only victorious in this category; it took home the award for “Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical” as well. Of course, it would only make sense for this album to be worthy of such success, considering the musicians behind the project.

Goat Rodeo Sessions is the result of a 2011 collaboration of Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile, recorded at James Taylor’s barn in Massachusetts. Ma played the cello, Duncan the fiddle, Meyer the bass, and Thile the mandolin. This quartet accompanied with the occasional vocals from Aoife O’Donovan, created what is perhaps one of my favorite albums.

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This wasn’t the first time that the four talented musicians in their respected genres worked together. Meyer, Ma and Thile have all collaborated at some point throughout the past few years. However, the production of Goat Rodeo Sessions was a breed of its own. In fact the album’s title was inspired by the novel, yet risky nature of the project. Ma likens the term “goat rodeo” to the notion that “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.” Basically, what Ma was trying to say about the title, as well as the album in its entirety was that innovation requires risk and chaos can lead to a masterpiece. In order for any musical project to become a success, the musicians must encourage risk and chaos while at the same time avoiding falling victim to these two elements. Goat Rodeo Sessions manages to do just that.

The quartet has been performing songs from the album live since the beginning of last year. Their show at the House of Blues in Boston was shown in theaters across the country, as a way to promote the album. They later released a live EP of Goat Rodeo Sessions as well as a concert DVD, which are what really started to capture people’s attention.

Every song on the album is an original composition. When I say the word original, I REALLY mean it. There’s nothing else quite like Goat Rodeo. Although the entire album is definitely more bluegrass than classical, Ma’s contribution to the instrumentals takes the folk genre to a completely new level. His cello adds depth and a sense of maturity to the music without detracting from the overall playful and rustic album. The blending of the cello, mandolin, fiddle and bass actually give the listener a different type of appreciation for these instruments than if they were to be played on their own. Goat Rodeo Sessions is essentially the embodiment of all of the four musicians exhibiting their unadulterated talent and creativity when it comes to composing music.

Even though Ma is a classically accomplished cellist (having trained at both Julliard and Harvard), whereas Duncan follows more of the folksy, easy-going mentality, these two musicians along with Meyer and Thile concoct an impressive juxtaposition of perfectionism and risk. This is not simply a folk album; it’s an experiment of venturing into new musical territory. It’s impossible accurately describe this album because there’s truly nothing else I can compare it to. All I can say is that this is definitely an album you should be listening to.

 

-Hannah Loveless

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