One can make a pretty convincing argument that electricity has changed how we make and hear music in profound ways. From the simple ability to preserve a performance to the advent of synthesized sound, making music is all too often a complex enterprise.
There’s much to be said for simplicity, though, and the sheer delight of old friends making acoustic music together remains one of life’s undiminished pleasures. Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen have been doing just that for over forty years, and with At Edwards’ Barn they bring their musical careers full circle, basking in easy-going camaderie while strolling leisurely through a retrospective of their collaborative and solo output through the years.
Hiillman is probably the better-known of the two, having spent time with seminal country-rock outfits The Flying Burrito Brothers, The Byrds, and the Desert Rose Band. Pedersen’s resume is equally impressive, though – a fellow alumni of the DRB, he’s worked with a veritable who’s who of California-based roots rockers, including the likes of Linda Ronstadt, John Prine, and Emmylou Harris.
With so much shared musical history between them, Hillman and Pedersen have a vast catalog to draw upon. Hillman is responsible for most of the originals, including minor classics like “Wheels” and “Sin City” (both co-written with the cosmic cowboy himself, the late Gram Parsons), while Pedersen contributes his own “Wait A Minute.” Elsewhere there are the almost-obligatory “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Eight Miles High,” both big hits for The Byrds, along with the Louvin Brothers’ “If I Could Only Win Your Love” and Buck Owens’ “Together Again.”
The program is all-acoustic, with Hillman’s mandolin and Pedersen’s guitar ably supported by fiddle (David Mansfield), additional guitar (Larry Park) and upright bass (Bill Bryson). But it’s the superb harmonies of the two men up front that make this project truly special. Though neither voice is particularly remarkable, both sing with relaxed assurance, effortlessly weaving an intricate vocal tapestry that’s natural and unforced yet borders on the sublime. The results are warm and intimate – the venue was chosen for its excellent acoustics – and wonderfully free of the studio gloss and layered production that permeates most modern recordings.
Recording itself is an electric process, of course. But somewhere along the line, producers have become almost as important as the artists making the music. This is one of those outings that remind us that music is a profoundly human endeavor. And sometimes it’s best – when the songs are as strong and performances as impeccable as this – when there’s as little electricity as possible between performer and listener, when the music comes straight from , and is aimed straight at, the human heart.
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