FolkWorld #75 07/2021
© Devon Léger (Hearth Music/HearthPR)

Across the Western Ocean

Communication and Community

Seattle songwriter, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Eli West’s new album, Tapered Point of Stone, is packed with acoustic roots music and powerful musicianship, featuring members of Mandolin Orange.

It’s always illuminating to ask an artist how they understand music, but Eli West’s perspective is nothing short of ground-breaking. A trained designer, he sees music architecturally, visualizing his compositions spatially. It’s a highly unusual way to think about music, tied to his verdant natural world of the Pacific Northwest. On his new album, Tapered Point of Stone, out April 23, 2021, West lays out original songs and tunes like houses built by hand, weaving their melodies into the setting of acoustic roots music that first inspired him.

Eli West

Artist Video Eli West @ FROG

Recorded in 2020, just before everything shut down, the album brings together West’s favored quartet of musicians: Andrew Marlin (Mandolin Orange) on mandolin, Christian Sedelmyer (Jerry Douglas) on fiddle, himself on mandolin, guitar, and banjo, and Clint Mullican (Mandolin Orange) on bass. This is the third album this quartet has built, including solo albums for Marlin and Sedelmyer, and at this point they operate on a near-magical wavelength.

Eli West
Tracklist: Ginny's Little Longhorn | Brick in the Road | I Know Your Wandering Heart | Tapered Point of Stone | Cwtch (Cutch) | The Hearth | Johnny Wombat | Hand to Play | Twin Bridges | Sweet Marie | Ora Lee | West Fork Gals | Three Links of Chain

Fiddle: Christian Sedelmyer, Joseph Decosimo; Mandolin & Guitar: Andrew Marlin; Singing: Steph Coleman, Julie Fowlis; Shruti: Steph Coleman; Dobro: Billy Cardine; Bass: Clint Mullican; Tamborine: Jens Linell

Artist Audio
Eli West "Tapered Point of Stone", Own label, 2021

As both a noted arranger, songwriter, performer, and composer, West has been crafting a Northwest-centric roots music aesthetic through earlier collaborations with Cahalen Morrison and John Reischman, and recordings with Bill Frisell and Dori Freeman. Tapered Point of Stone showcases West’s collaborative nature. “My identity as a musician is as much about collaboration as anything,” West explains. “I’m a second born, that might be part of it? Whether music is about communication or community, the sum is bigger than the parts.”

This ethos comes from West’s passion for bluegrass, where collaborative music making is the norm. West approaches his influences more from a John Hartford perspective than Bill Monroe, however. Whereas Monroe was about the flashy virtuosity and competitiveness of the individual, Hartford was about crafting beautiful and tuneful melodies for community: playing together, not showing off. Exposed to the joy of this music for the first time at a Matt Flinner and David Grier house concert, West says “what drew me in was the level of communication. It was a new language.”

This shared language has taken West across the world, touring the UK, Scandinavia, Australia, and Europe, and has provided an endless source of inspiration, enabling him to craft a career built in combination with others. It also put him in touch with a world built by hand, away from the constant buzz of our digital society. “There’s a precedent to the music,” he says, “but it’s also young. Maybe it falls in a spot where there’s enough tradition and enough opportunity at the same time.”

West grew up among Douglas fir and western red cedar in the Pacific Northwest, building forts and playing with stick guns (his pacifist father, a family doctor, forbade squirt guns). This setting closely informs his songwriting, especially after the recent passing of his father. It’s a perspective he explores eloquently in the title track, speaking of his childhood in the Olympic rainforest, home to Roosevelt elk, where “The horns protrude in anger / and beg to take my crown / Meanwhile the fleece of grief / Slips off quite like a gown.” The album became a vessel for West to grieve and remember his father’s legacy. “I turned inward, exploring loss,” he explains. “My father was a beloved family doctor in the region. He delivered most of my teachers’ babies. His passing begged questions of community for myself. For our music community, we’re not as geographically connected, so it’s been especially hard with COVID.”

Tapered Point of Stone is Eli West’s reconnection to the musical community that’s given him so much, a path forward for an artist who defines music through the joy of creating with others.

Julie Fowlis

Artist Video Julie Fowlis

Christian Sedelmyer

Artist Video Christian Sedelmyer

Mandolin Orange

Artist Video Mandolin Orange

Cahalen & Eli

Artist Video

Eli West's video for the title track, “Tapered Point of Stone,” was premiered with Folk Radio UK who said “West’s music is imbued with a warmth that’s impossible to resist, it will draw you back time and again and Tapered Point of Stone is no exception.”

“I Know Your Wandering Heart” features Julie Fowlis, one of my favorite Scottish singers. I love her singing also because she was the singer in the Pixar movie Brave. I sang those songs a lot with my kids!

The Fretboard Journal premiered “Brick in the Road” saying that West is “our kind of guitar hero!” West’s a student of Pacific Northwest architecture and has preternatural ability to fuse our landscapes and natural environment into his songs. For “Brick in the Road,” though, he was inspired by some time spent in a small village in Wales while on tour! Check out the video featuring fiddler Christian Sedelmyer, and mandolinist Andrew Marlin and bassist Clint Mullican of Mandolin Orange.

Photo Credits: (1)-(2) Eli West, (3) Julie Fowlis, (4) Christian Sedelmyer, (5) Mandolin Orange, (6) Cahalen & Eli (unknown/website).

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