Michael Daves

Orchids and Violence

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Orchids and Violence is the first solo full-length by Michael Daves. (The Grammy-nominated Sleep with One Eye Open was a collaboration with Chris Thile.) Mixed by Vance Powell, it's a double album whose discs contain the exact same songs -- the first is acoustic, the second electric. The material comprises traditional bluegrass and country standards -- and Mother Love Bone's "Stargazer." The first disc was cut live to tape in a 19th century church. Daves flatpicks and strums like a madman, surrounded by a smoking cast: bassist Mike Bub, fiddler Brittany Haas, mandolinist Sarah Jarosz, and banjoist Noam Pikelny. The electric second disc was recorded in Daves' home studio. He played guitars, pianos, and drums -- electric bass was played by Jessi Carter. The way Daves renders all these tunes underscores his rep as a "renegade traditionalist." Contrast both versions of the old fiddle tune "June Apple." The acoustic version is deft and quick paced, played with enough ensemble energy to make it crackle. The electric take sounds like Richard Thompson playing with Robert Quine. On disc one Bill Monroe's "Darling Corey" walks a tightrope between rural country boogie, rockabilly, and swinging bluegrass. On the second half it sounds like the Hollies' "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress" played by Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté (thanks in no small part to Tony Trischka's psychedelic cello banjo). While the acoustic version of "The Dirt That You Throw" is a midtempo mountain waltz with gospel and blues overtones, on disc two it comes through as an elegiac dirge filtered through psychedelic country. The first version of the aforementioned "Stargazer" is a sprightly, quick-moving bluegrass tune with extended vocal harmonies -- and sounds like it originated with the Stanley Brothers. Its electric companion is rife with Neil Young and Crazy Horse-esque sustain and distortion. The initial version of "A Good Year for the Roses" (associated forever with George Jones) is rendered raw, stripped-down, and bereft of anything but grief. The second, more bewildered that bereft, could have been arranged by Paul Westerberg and Gary Louris. Ralph Stanley's classic "Pretty Polly" reveals its deep Delta blues roots without straying from the mountain tradition on disc one; its mirror image is twisted and bent through the ghost of Dock Boggs and Junior Kimbrough. "The 28th of January" is rendered on disc one as a picker's hornpipe tune (with Trischka on cello banjo). Its electric read is a strutting instrumental boogie filtered through Marc Bolan's shadow. Daves considers bluegrass a music whose heritage was fostered by a tension between various musical traditions -- blues, gospel, country, folk, swing jazz -- and the desire of its creators for innovation on these forms. Taking Orchids and Violence as a whole illustrates that in spades. In the 21st century, these songs as covered by Daves not only retain their meaning but cut deeper into the American grain.

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