Review Summary: Finally classical music for the ADD generation.
Ever since the Black Monolith first taught early man the use of tools many millennia ago, we have also been creating music. Why is this? What intrinsic value does the prolonging of soundwaves have that necessitates all society and cultures need partake? One reason is found on the mesolimbic pathway. That is the road that dopamine travels from remote reaches of the brain on its way to the cortex. This path is also known as the pleasure road.
This means that music can share in the same chemical processes that activate for love, drugs, desire and incentives. This is why pop music is actually a strict science. The songs are specifically created to elicit as much of a dopamine response as possible from the listener in three minute intervals. The key to this can be found in the brain’s ability to anticipate. If the brain can forecast a powerful or moving section of a song on the way then it will be more apt to release its chemicals. Thus the popularity of the verse, chorus, verse song structure. It has a high predictability factor easily enabling the song to give the brain what it is looking for.
All this is simply to say: there is a reason that more complex or creative music doesn’t have the same popularity as Top 40 singles. Most people’s brains are not trained to anticipate or experienced enough to enjoy alternative forms of musical expression.
It is also this reason why Yo-Yo Ma’s The Goat Rodeo Sessions is such a successful album. Yo-Yo with the help of three very notable musicians has created a classical album to rival its more mainstream competitors on the music charts.
What they have created is some of the catchiest classical music ever made. The band uses mainly bluegrass instrumentation including the mandolin, fiddle and upright bass with the lone exception being Ma on his cello. Some people consider this a classical take on bluegrass but really its just a new way to create classical music with unconventional instruments. That’s not to say many of the tracks don’t allude to original bluegrass principles such as playing in thirds and fifths and participating in three part instrumental harmonies. The band is able to construct complex songs full of movement and life while also incorporating enough hooks to keep the listener engaged.
Composers have been exploiting positive brain responses caused by anticipation for hundreds of years. Classical music often uses a memorable sequences of notes that occasionally repeat throughout a movement to keep the listener waiting for the payoff. That practice is amped up here on another level. Especially on the second track Quarter Chicken Dark. An enthralling seven note sequence becomes almost a five minute jam after being dissected and passed back and forth between the different members and octave levels. Other songs like Hill Justice are destined to be used as an autumn soundtrack someday. A surprise here is the two tracks where Aoife O’Donovan joins the band and provides vocal accompaniment. Especially on No One But You her haunting vocals have a stunning effect.
Many of musicians here are masters of more than one instrument so on tracks like Franz and the Eagle a piano is introduced and beautifully leads the song. On other tracks you might occasionally hear some banjo or guitar work which all fit in seamlessly thanks to producer extraordinaire James Taylor who let them use his studio/barn for recording. On a record with four great talents that work together and intertwine so well its an accomplishment that none of them really stand out but the group itself is the highlight. It is to their credit that the group keeps things nimble and compelling.
Classical music may not be the popular art form it once was but it does have a few things going for it. For one its listeners are more likely to have high self esteem, creative ability, and a greater overall sense of ease. Number two is a future possibility that albums like this could inspire other great talents to spend less time interpreting Ludwig Van and more time creating new standards while pushing the genre forwards.