(Okehdokee, 2016)

Sometimes how you feel about music, an always slippery thing, can be purely a matter of taste. Taste is in many ways inexplicable. I'm not sure I entirely understand my own. Perhaps, like so many things, it's both nature and nurture. I am certain that the oldtime cowboy tunes I heard when I was a little kid pointed me toward an idea of what I'd like in music, though. "Home on the Range" and "Old Chisholm Trail" are among the first songs I remember hearing.

The group that calls itself, a tad preciously, 3hattrio is, of course, three guys who wear hats (not to be confused with caps), at least on stage when they're performing together. One of them, surely the best known, is Hal Cannon, a founder of the fondly remembered Deseret String Band. Cannon, who sings lead and plays banjo and guitar in the band, also helped create the Western Folklife Center and the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Violinist Eli Wrankle is a musicologist, while bassist and percussionist Greg Istock is a jazz musician and student of Caribbean styles. On this, their third album together, they offer up 10 cuts of what they call "desert music."

I like Solitaire better than I liked the somewhat meandering Dark Desert Night (reviewed here on 31 October 2015), I suspect because the experience of playing music together over time can be counted upon to tighten things up and to make for a more coherent sound. The label the group employs doesn't mean much, even if some of the titles suggest folk music. If part of the approach is alt.string band, another part might be called alt.jazz. It's hard for me to imagine, however, what the intended audience is. It's unlikely, I should think, that either folk or jazz fans would rush to it, when music more strictly suited to their respective tastes is easily available.

Yet the quality of musicianship is consistently high, and after a few listenings my reflexive skepticism has mellowed. Cannon and Istock's "Rose" is a truly beautiful number, also among the most purely folk-inflected. Given my orientation, I suppose my preference is no coincidence. Your own preferences are strictly up to you.

I expect that any listener will favor some cuts over others. I'd be surprised if anybody takes to everything on offer. I suppose that means, however ambivalent our other feelings, that we ought to have the good grace to credit 3hattrio with artistic courage.

music review by
Jerome Clark

14 January 2017

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