Stuart Duncan / Yo-Yo Ma / Edgar Meyer / Chris Thile

Not Our First Goat Rodeo

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Not Our First Goat Rodeo Review

by Matt Collar

With 2011's Goat Rodeo Sessions, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, mandolinist Chris Thile, bassist Edgar Meyer, and fiddler Stuart Duncan introduced their ambitiously playful, genre-bending mix of classical, folk, bluegrass, and global music textures. It was a hit, earning them critical acclaim and a Grammy Award for Best Folk Album. With 2020's Not Our First Goat Rodeo, the quartet reunites for another stylistically far-reaching outing that matches the heights of their first. On their own, each of the group members have distinguished themselves as musical mavericks, known for their ability to straddle multiple genres with ease. Together, they bring all of their varied experiences to bear, crafting original songs that showcase their technical virtuosity and ear for melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic invention. The opening "Your Coffee Is a Disaster" is a kinetic piece built around a swooning, middle eastern-tinged riff doubled by Ma and Duncan, as Thile and Meyer offer a roiling underpinning of articulated arpeggios that evoke the circular work of Steve Reich. Conversely, the languid and wryly named "Waltz Whitman" sounds like a traditional Appalachian folk song married to an impressionistic composition by Claude Debussey. Yet more expansive is "Not for Lack of Trying," a brooding and angular work featuring minimalist piano, bowed bass, and an architectural melody; all of which bring to mind the 20th century modernism of Bela Bartok. Warmer in tone, if no less ambitious, are the group tracks with singer/songwriter Aoife O'Donovan, who again offers her own delicate and nuanced vocal skills as she did on the original Goat Rodeo Sessions. She and Thile duet with sparkling richness on the driving "The Trappings," their voices shimmering like bird wings over Meyer's diving whale bassline. Equally engaging is "Every Note a Pearl," where she and Thile sing wordless harmonies while the rest of the ensemble skitters around them in a frenetic, barnyard twang. Not Our First Goat Rodeo is a deeply engaging, often rapturous album that balances keen and studied musicality with an almost chaotic passion for group interplay.

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