The Mountain Music Project
Mountain Music MMJ 2614
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The challenge of all concepts is to translate vision into accessibility. In 1983, The Chieftains proved that Western and Asian musicians could make beautiful music together. The Mountain Music Project seeks to expand the idea. Producer Danny Knicely operates from the assumption that hills are hills, whether the mountains are the Appalachians or the Himalayas; that it makes no difference if a wooden flute comes from Ireland or the Himalayas (bansuri); and that fiddles are fiddles, whether they are finely crafted, or roughly hewn from a chunk of wood and finished with a sheath of goatskin stretched across the chamber (sarangi). He then gathered American bluegrass and Nepali musicians and told them to make mountain music together.
The results are mixed, though it’s no fault of the musicians from Nepal’s musical Gandharba caste. On The Mountain Project, the Nepali musicians (Buddhiman, Manoj, Jagat, and Ganesh Gandharba) do a better job of upholding their traditions than some of the Americans do with Appalachian songs. The instrumentals are so good on both sides of the divide that one can instantly hear why Danny Knicely and Tara Linhardt conceived the project. Buddhiman Gandharba’s raw sarangi notes and vocals on “Sita Rani Ma” are a perfect parallel to Tim O’Brien’s yearnful “Going Across the Sea;” both sing and play their fiddles as if they were the lost grandchildren of Tommy Jarrell. Put them together on a song like “My Home is Across the Blue Ridge Mountains” and the synergy is even more obvious. Bring in some more Yanks–Curtis Burch (dobro), Mark Schatz (bass), Tony Trischka (banjo), and beautiful sounds meld. And the producers were right about the flutes; either Jagat Gandharba’s bansuri or Aaron Olwell’s Irish flute fill the aural spaces nicely. I wish the same could be said for all the singing. I don’t know the vocal work Knicely or Ricky Baugus well enough to say whether the recording is badly balanced or if they are weak singers, but I can say that what we hear on this album gets overwhelmed by the mix. Bottom line: hills are hills, but not all vocals are created equally. --Rob Weir
Check out the very crisp trailer from the related film project.