Cahalen Morrison and Eli West don’t always play with each other, but when they do it’s usually a thrill. That was certainly the case during a breezy, fun Thursday evening at the Triple Door.
But Morrison and West just played a Seattle show in February when they released their third album together, “I’ll Swing My Hammer With Both My Hands,” and perhaps didn’t feel like running through what would probably be a similar set list. That could be why the brilliantly decided to break their show up in a unique manner.
First, Morrison took the stage with fiddler Greg Spatz and got the dinner crowd quieted down with “It Is Red, But It Is Not A Wooden Swing,” a song off his solo album “Old Timey & New-Fangled.” The song hinted at the effective interplay to come between Spatz’s fiddle and Morrison’s dusty country drawl.
The rustic warmth of Morrison’s voice collided beautifully with the searing sting of the fiddle on “Ghost of Birch,” and later gave way to pure frenetic joy on the fiddle tune “Little Rabbit.”
West and mandolin master John Reischman were up next and worked through Lead Belly’s “Whoa Back Buck.” The difference in style between West and Morrison was stark, as West employs much less of a natural drawl and twang to his singing voice. Still, he sounded plenty authentic on “The Poor Cowboy” before giving way to some impressive mandolin picking on “A Prarie jewel,” a song Reischman wrote for his wife.
Finally, it was time for Morrison and West to take the stage together. As the first notes of “Fiddlehead Fern” began to cascade from their instruments, it was clear that the pair add up to more than the sum of their parts. Whether it was the Townes Van Zandt song “Loretta” (sung note-perfect by West) or the country backroads of “Down in the Lonesome Draw” (utilizing Morrison’s twang), the pair was at ease and the musical conversation flowed naturally.
Things got turned up to the next level when Spatz and Reischman joined the duo on stage to close the show out. “Potluck Dinner” was mixed in a medley with “On God’s Rocky Shore” that gave everyone a chance to shine and show off their ability to pick.
“Our Lady of the Tall Trees” brought hoots of appreciation from the crowd and would have made a satisfying end to nearly three hours of music, but Morrison and West couldn’t help themselves and tacked on “Kentucky Girl” as a fitting coda. It was, as Morrison noted, the only “actual” bluegrass song played all night.
Morrison and West are beyond labels, and as their partnerships with Spatz and Reischman proved, not beyond excelling with other players. But there’s something special that happens when they take the stage together, so we’ll sip our beer, eat our pad thai and enjoy one indelible moment.
-Owen R. Smith, on Twitter @inanedetails