The last time cellist Yo-Yo Ma teamed with bassist Edgar Meyer and mandolin player Chris Thile (of Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers fame) for a classical/bluegrass hybrid, the result was the gold-selling Songs of Joy & Peace. Here, Ma, Meyer, and Thile are joined by fiddler Stuart Duncan in a different kind of string quartet. The slang phrase "goat ...
The last time cellist Yo-Yo Ma teamed with bassist Edgar Meyer and mandolin player Chris Thile (of Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers fame) for a classical/bluegrass hybrid, the result was the gold-selling Songs of Joy & Peace. Here, Ma, Meyer, and Thile are joined by fiddler Stuart Duncan in a different kind of string quartet. The slang phrase "goat rodeo," according the Urban Dictionary, "is about the most polite term used by aviation people (and others in higher risk situations) to describe a scenario that requires about 100 things to go right at once if you intend to walk away from it." That may be overstating the case for a group of musicians most of whom have worked together and succeeded before, but it also carries a rural connotation that is appropriate for music that is, for the most part, closer to bluegrass than classical. The tunes were written by Duncan, Meyer, and Thile, and Ma's role is largely supportive. After the fast pieces "Attaboy" and "Quarter Chicken Dark," "Helping Hand" is the first slower number, with Thile switching to guitar and Duncan taking over the mandolin for a musical conversation between the two instruments. "Where's My Bow?" is a violin/cello/bass trio with Thile sitting out, and it is one of the few tracks that leans more toward the classical side, boasting a big, dramatic finish. The more exotic "Here and Heaven" finds both Thile and Meyer at times playing the Renaissance instrument the gamba, as Duncan picks up a fretless banjo, all of them backing a vocal duet between Thile and Aoife O'Donovan of Crooked Still. Meyer moves to piano for the slow, thoughtful "Franz and the Eagle," another piece that has more of a classical bent. The rest of the album is in a progressive bluegrass mode, "Less Is Moi" mixing several short themes and allowing room for improvisation, and "13:8" taken quickly, with Duncan and Thile interacting briskly. It doesn't really seem as if 100 things had to go right for The Goat Rodeo Sessions to work; it only required four or five talented musicians to play and sing in sympathetic unity, and that they did, making this a satisfying experience for more adventurous classical and bluegrass fans. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi