The Strad Issue: January 2012
Description: Yo-Yo Ma leads a colourful exploration of American roots music
Musicians: Yo-Yo Ma (cello) Stuart Duncan (violin/banjo/mandolin) Edgar Meyer (double bass/piano/gamba) Chris Thile (mandolin/guitar/gamba/vocals) Aoife O’Donovan (vocals)
Composer: Trad

Real-life goat rodeo would be a rough ride indeed, but this is anything but. Instead, it’s an opportunity to bathe in an intricate and deluxe take on Bluegrass with classical overtones. The roistering hoedowns suggest some harum-scarum, perhaps, but the taut, fizzing melodies and jabbing, swinging mandolin show all the signs of complete control. And there’s more to the recording than obvious Bluegrass renditions: the melodic glides and accompanying pitter-patter of Helping Hand are charmingly serene, while there’s a dash of urban swagger to the funky Quarter Chicken Dark, and the shadowy moments of 13:8 lend the album real depth.

Three of the band have worked together before, but the newcomer – fiddler/banjo player Stuart Duncan – sits right in the slot with them too, merging as one with Chris Thile’s mandolin at times, at others pairing up with Yo-Yo Ma to deliver quick-fire syncopation, most notably in Where’s My Bow? Everything about it – including the smatterings of vocals – shows the light, assured touch of master craftsmen, finely shaped and filled with colour.

James Crel