Eli West has staked his claim in the roots music world as one of the most tasteful and innovative musicians. Well known for his work with Tim O’Brien, John Reischman, Jayme Stone, Cahalen Morrison, Tony Furtado and more, his debut solo album, entitled The Both, centers him as a leader, but also a deeply thoughtful collaborator.
To record the album, he curated small ensembles of some of his close friends and personal heroes, like jazz great Bill Frisell, new Americana discovery Dori Freeman, and Appalachian duo Anna & Elizabeth. He centered the album conceptually on the story of his two grandfathers; one a decorated WWII prisoner of war, the other a Brethren preacher and peace advocate. They couldn’t have differed more, but together they shared a family. In this way, the theme of the album is duality. The first half of the album showcases carefully built arrangements of six American folk songs. The second half of the album revisits each of those songs as instrumental passages. The goal isn’t for one version to best the other, but for each to reveal new sides to the other, unveiling the story of the both.
Recorded in the timber-framed glory of Seattle’s Sage Studios, Eli chose artists deeply versed in both folk and jazz roots to complete his vision of duality. Bill Frisell, one of the great living jazz guitarists known for his progressive folk work, joins Eli throughout, bringing a remarkable subtlety that belies the musical complexity. Fiddler Christian Sedelmyer (10 String Symphony) and bassist Ethan Jodziewicz (Sierra Hull) help the themes come alive. Mandolin legend John Reischman brings an inventive air of Monroe tradition. For the songs, Eli turned to three artists with particular grounding in roots music. Dori Freeman flew in from Galax, Virginia to sing with Eli, while Anna Roberts-Gevalt and Elizabeth Laprelle came up from the Blue Ridge Mountains and Maryland. These three singers join Eli’s rich tenor on the likes of Waylon Jennings, Woody Guthrie, the Carter Family, and an original from Dori Freeman.
Duality has long been a theme of Eli West’s work: Old and new, folk and jazz, veteran and pacifist, vocal and instrumental, odd and accessible. On The Both, Eli West spans the sounds of electric and acoustic guitars, banjo, and pedal steel. In doing so, he casually rebuilds beautiful songs from older worlds.
It takes great skill and care to make music that sounds this natural.
Tim O’Brien says, “Music like this doesn’t come along very often. This stuff just reassures me.”