An excellent follow-up to Dave Easley’s Byways of the Moon lands today, further cementing the legacy of Easley as one of the most affecting pedal steel players today. It’s become something of a crowded field of late, especially with the rise of ambient country. The lone pedal steel player has become more than merely an integral piece of a powerful country band or an embellishment on a pristine pop album. The instrument has become a focal point and the accolades towards the virtuosity of the players couldn’t be more deserved. Easley eschews the country norms for a jazz environment for his pedal steel excursions, bringing on an exemplary crew centered around the Big Ego studios players. The album is split between stunning moments from Easley and Jeff Parker, both of whom wield their virtuosity not with flash, but rather with restraint, tone, and temperament. Easley matches Parker’s already renowned suppleness on a string of reinterpretations that feel like they may have always meant to have a steel in the mix.
The last album found Easley working through versions of Carla Bley, Coltrane, Ned Washington, Monk, and a particularly inspired collision of “In A Silent Way” and “In My Room.” This time around, as the title hints, ballads are on the block and Easley slips into their saunter with an unbuttoned grace. This time its Coleman, Ellington, Sharrock, Carmichael, Billy Strayhorn, Brooks Bowman, and Paddy McAloon that find themselves among the clay on the wheel, with the ensemble reshaping the works into wonders that smoothie the hackles of the soul. Sharrock’s “Who Does She Hope To Be” in particular gets a velvet air, mounting the herculean task of swapping Pharoah’s sax with Easley’s strings, giving the Ask The Ages classic an even more somber countenance. The album again makes the case for steel as an exemplary addition to the jazz canon, and for Easley to be lauded as one of its true luminaries.
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