Appalachian Journey by Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer and Mark O’Connor
Melding genres in unexpected ways has become a popular approach to modern music, notably with classical strings taking on musical styles that they’re not typically associated with. Appalachian Journey is a good example of the trend, where violinist Mark O’Connor, bassist Edgar Meyer and – arguably the most famous living cellist – Yo-Yo Ma, along with some guest performers, bring a classical take to traditional American folk tunes.
The album opens with “1B,” a constantly moving instrumental highlighted by dissonant slides in the violin and syncopated accompaniment. “Misty Moonlight Waltz” is a more lyrical tune, perfect for dancing or just relaxing, while “Hard Times Come Again No More” brings in folk legend James Taylor for soulful lyrics. “Indecision” lives up to its name by melding fiddle motifs with a jazzy and experimental counterpoint. “Limerock” is a jaunty fiddle tune that shows off the Celtic roots found in the Appalachian region and challenges the three string players to bow for all they’re worth. James Taylor is back for “Benjamin,” providing a guitar line and whistling an accompaniment to a light string melody, while bluegrass fiddler Alison Krauss joins the trio for “Fisher’s Hornpipe,” another traditional Celtic dance form. “Duet for Cello and Bass” alternates slow and mellow themes with more aggressive and virtuosic passages. Celtic tunes are back with a pair of reels, the toe-tapping “Emily’s Reel” and “Cloverfoot Reel” with its meandering introduction and alternating solos offering variations on the melodic theme. The album turns further toward classical stylings with “Poem for Carlita,” then picks up the fiddling again – and some of the fastest notes you’ve ever heard on low strings – with “Caprice for Three.” “Second Time Around” sets a slowly building melody in waltz time and brings it back down again. Alison Krauss returns to provide vocals to the lullaby-like “Slumber My Darling,” and the album closes with the long track “Vistas,” which fittingly offers an overview of different musical styles and variations on a theme. If you’re looking for soothing music with a hint of familiarity, Appalachian Journey might just take you where you want to go. - Michelle (Sunset)