Not Our First Goat Rodeo (Best of 2020)

Not Our First Goat Rodeo

Stuart Duncan, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile

Sony Music Masterworks

Not Our First Goat Rodeo, a second album for the grouping of fiddler Stuart Duncan, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bassist Edgar Meyer, and mandolinist Chris Thile, adopts a popular hybrid: bluegrass meets classical. The past three decades have seen a number of releases in this mold, many of them spearheaded by Meyer and Thile. But this particular recording captures a certain spark, an ebullience that can elicit a smile even in the midst of the dark days of 2020. 

The group plays together beautifully. Edgar Meyer’s long glissandos give an Eastern feel to “Your Coffee is a Disaster.” Stuart Duncan’s fiddle is deployed in a ‘high lonesome’ fashion on “Waltz Whitman.” Yo-Yo Ma, as the classical musician reading notation, would seem to be an outlier in this group, with charts by Meyer and Thile circumscribing his contribution. That said, he plays with brilliant tone and rhythmic verve, clearly enjoying being in this different context again. His playing is particularly poignant on “Waltz Whitman.” Thile’s supple playing and singing, in a duet with guest vocalist Aife O’Donovan, buoy the standout track “Every Note a Pearl.” All of the players and vocalists create a hypnotic interplay on “Not for Lack of Trying,” and album closer “757 ml.” is catchy as all get out.

The Beethoven Year has skewed toward profundity, but sometimes in the isolation of social distancing, abundant fun has been just the ticket. Best crossover release of 2020.

-Christian Carey