Yo Yo Ma turns to bluegrass music for new album

Fri Oct 21, 2011 1:45pm EDT
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By Mike Ayers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - He's known as one of the world's best classical cellists, but for his latest musical effort Yo-Yo Ma has dropped Bach and picked up bluegrass.

Grammy Award-winner Ma spent a year recording songs with bluegrass titans Edgar Meyer, Stuart Duncan and Chris Thile for a project entitled "The Goat Rodeo Sessions," an 11-song set of original compositions, due out October 24.

Meyer, Duncan and Thile put some initial thoughts together for the tracks over the last year and then the four of them got together to develop and record.

"We started off with the stories, like every culture," Ma told Reuters about this project. "Every culture has its own brand of stories, its characters. There's nothing but similarities (between bluegrass and classical forms). This developed from people trusting and admiring each other. All the music I play is roots based, and it gets further along."

While it might surprise some that a proficient classical musician like Ma would transition to this version of Americana, "The Goat Rodeo Sessions" is Ma's second project with Meyer. The two recorded two albums with violinist Mark O'Connor -- 1996's "Appalachia Waltz" and 2000's "Appalachian Journey."

But these sessions are different, not only with the expansion into a quartet of instruments, but also with the addition of Thile, whose creativity on the mandolin earned him notoriety first with his band Nickel Creek and now with the Punch Brothers.

The album drifts between playful songs like "Attaboy" and "Less is Moi," that are tinged with folk elements, to softer, more poignant arrangements on "Franz and the Eagle" and "Helping Hand."

Although most of the songs are instrumentals, Thile is joined by Crooked Still's Aoife O'Donovan for vocals on "Here and Heaven" and "No One But You."   Continued...