Last year brought an excellent surprise in the lovely Unbecoming from guitarist Eli Winter. The young player mixed pastoral stringwork in a way that evoked Daniel Bachman, Peter Walker, and Jack Rose. Now he’s followed that engrossing work up with a collaboration with bluegrass player Cameron Knowler, sliding their work between the rivets of raga and panoramic Western folk-blues. As might be expected by imagery on the cover, the pair pick up a sense of the Western sprawl for Anticipation. Knowler, himself a Texan, brings something of an innate knowledge of the parched, yet painterly expanses and the pair conceived the record touring together through the Trans-Pecos region in 2018. Their solo sets lead to duo sets and eventually the results are laid to tape here.
Once the seeds of collaboration were set, the record was laid down over a nine-hour session that saw both players working thorough improvisations and traditional like the touching “Cumberland Gap,” dubbed “Cumberland Application” for their take. While the players come from different schools and approaches, the melding of their styles brings out a tenderness in each that’s amplified by playing off of one another. The pair have a hefty amount of virtuosity between the, and it comes rippling out on songs like “Sippin’ Amaretto,” which runs from crystal clear picking to a blunted dissonance in the span of seconds.
What’s most striking about the record is that its hard to find the fissure between the two players, feeling as if one player is merely working an impossible feat. The to players answer one another with a brotherly symbiosis that feels like it must have developed over a span of years rather than weeks. The songs themselves are often soaked in sunset, feeling like the unspooling of the soul at the end of a long day, and fittingly they end exactly where they began, with a live take that winds up the tour that they’d shared. Its hard not to hear the works on Anticipation and take the title literally, knowing that both players have more to offer given their talent, but it pays to slow down and let this one seep in deep.
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