[6 June 2014]
Seattle’s Cahalen Morrison and Eli West have been releasing some of the most affecting acoustic-folk music of the past few years, ever since their fine 2010 debut The Holy Coming of the Storm and their 2012 follow-up Our Lady of the Tall Trees. Now comes I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands, a worthy successor to those strong albums. As before, the reedy and wistful vocals of the two are the highlight, intertwined as they are throughout most of the record’s 14 tracks, yet the men make sure that an abundance of variety avoids staleness. Fiddle and mandolin support the backbone of guitar and add plenty of sonic interest, while the tempo and mood vary from one tune to the next. The highlights include the wistful album opener “Fiddlehead Fern”, the storming “Anxious Rows” and the downtempo, elegiac “Down in the Lonesome Draw”. “Sinner, Come Home” is muscular and hypnotic, utterly devoid of treacly sentimentality, like all the best devotionals. In a perfect world, musicians like this would be revered for their preservation and expansion of traditional music. We may not live in a perfect world, but passionate listeners can nonetheless appreciate what’s on offer here.