My favorite Sisters Folk Festival discovery: Cahalen Morrison & Eli West

Friday, September 9th, 2011, 3:38 pm by Ben Salmon

I’ve spent a lot of the past couple weeks listening to artists playing the 2011 Sisters Folk Festival, and I believe this is the deepest pool of talent ever at the event. You can find all our coverage by clicking here.

But I want to draw your attention to one act in particular. Cahalen Morrison & Eli West are a duo from Seattle. They play old-time music for modern times, and they are terrific. Here’s what I wrote in today’s paper:

Making old-time music in the 21st century is a slippery slope.

There’s a fine line, see, between playing compelling music that reverently recalls a long-gone era and grabbing a banjo, affecting a nasal twang and hamming it up in a bowler hat.

Cahalen Morrison & Eli West belong firmly in the former camp. The Seattle duo began touring just over a year ago, yet their first album, “The Holy Coming of the Storm,” sounds like the product of years spent perfecting songs, tightening arrangements, honing harmonies and tuning into each other’s musical souls.

Morrison and West use a fleet of stringed things to make old-growth roots music, where bluegrass, folk and country intertwine. Listen to the songs at and note the rhythmic eccentricities of “On God’s Rocky Shore,” the vibrant, timeless picking of “Over There,” or the duo’s unconventional way with melody on “Lost Lovin’ Gal.”

Turns out playing old-time music isn’t so daunting when you have songs and chops like this. Morrison and West are, to quote bluegrass legend Tim O’Brien, “making music that the world needs.”

You have three opportunities to catch these guys over the next couple of days — one tonight, two Saturday — and I would strongly encourage you to do so:

9:15-10 tonight, Angeline’s Bakery
6-6:45 p.m. Saturday, Depot Cafe
8:45-9:45 p.m. Saturday, Bronco Billy’s

Here’s some video of Morrison and West performing to give you a taste of what they do! (There are more here.)

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