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Violence and Orchids
LP (12" album, 33 rpm)
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Orchids and Violence
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Nonesuch Records will release Violence and Orchids, the vinyl edition of Michael Daves's new album, Orchids and Violence, on May 6, 2016. The vinyl edition comprises two versions each of five traditional bluegrass tunes: acoustic takes performed with a band of roots-music innovators—bassist Mike Bub, violinist Brittany Haas, mandolinist Sarah Jarosz, and Punch Brothers banjoist Noam Pikelny—paired with electric rock renditions of the same songs played mostly played by Daves, with his wife Jessi Carter playing bass. It's "a roots-music master class, a brilliant example of old modes reinhabited with flair," says the New York Times. "To his credit, it can be hard to pick which version of a tune is best." The LP includes a download of the complete Orchids and Violence album.
The straightforward interpretations of the songs were recorded live to tape in a 19th-century church by Daves. The second disc was recorded in Daves's home studio and includes bass, drums, and electric guitar, and takes a raw, experimental rock approach to the same old-time material. The album was mixed by Vance Powell (Jack White, Kings of Leon, Danger Mouse).
"One of the things I love about bluegrass music is the tension between innovation and tradition," says Daves of the album. "When bluegrass came together, it was a fabrication of a variety of influences in American music yet it quickly became something people assume has been around forever. With this project, I can respect and honor the traditional aspects of that but also reflect on the innovative nature of bluegrass music when it was being created, when it was new.
"In the early conceptions of the electric record, I was thinking about it as something of a grunge record, but as it developed it became something pretty different," Daves says. "Those sounds that were happening in the early nineties were part of my discovering music, what I was absorbing as I was going out on my own as a guitarist and having my own bands. But when I got into making the record it was much more about the fun of exploring new sounds than reconnecting with some musical past. The album followed a period where I hadn't been playing much electric music, so plugging in felt pretty fresh, like discovering something new."
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This album, though, is more than just Daves showing off his chops. The concept didn't hit me until near the end of the second disc set. Each disc has the same set list, but in different styles. The first set sounds like very good but straight-forward bluegrass, and with songs like Darling Corey and Pretty Polly, there is a comforting and familiar sound for afficionados of acoustic music. The second disc is electric, and vaguely hipster country rock. Then it hit me. Stargazer. Mother Love Bone. Then I realized that when I heard Stargazer on the first disc, in a bluegrass style, it fit. I didn't even notice that I was listening to proto-grunge.
And that's the key to this album. Two styles: bluegrass, and electric country rock in an Uncle Tupelo vein. Same set list, drawing from different musical traditions to show how the pieces can be adapted. Not everything on the second disc worked for me. My tastes in electric music are probably getting old-fashioned, but the whole thing is a fascinating experiment. Nicely done.
When you can do a bluegrass version of Stargazer and make it sound right, you're onto something. Nicely done, Michael. Nicely done.
Oh, and good guests, like his sponsor, Tony Trischka. Good stuff.
Though I'm a big fan of stripped down guitar rock, I'm having a harder time getting into the rock album at this point. It's interesting to hear his take on what these traditional tunes could sound like plugged-in but so far curiosity is mostly what's driven my listening on the second album. That said, the bluegrass album is so good, it's worth the price and a 5 star rating.