Dromedary, Live From the Make Believe (Dromedary Music, 2003)
Dromedary is an acoustic duo from Athens, Georgia, that mixes music from all over the world to create its own unique blend. Rob McMaken plays dulcimer, mandolin and guitar, and Andrew Reissiger plays charango (the Andean mandolin-like instrument) and guitar.
Their debut recording, Artifact, gained them some notoriety and airplay on public radio in the U.S. They've followed it up with another eclectic effort, recorded live in two different studios, in two one-day sessions in the summer of 2002.
The first six tracks feature just McMaken and Reissiger; the second half of this 12-track CD includes guest musicians Ryan McMaken on dobro and Andrej Kurti on violin. Selections range from klezmer romps to pensive jazz, applachian gospel to Portuguese waltzes. Five of the tracks were written by the duo, the rest are covers or traditional tunes.
The record gets off to a lively start with "Klezmer Girl," a decidedly Eastern European-sounding tune with a dramatic slower section bookended with uptempo parts. From the beginning, you notice how much sound this duo can put out with just two instruments -- in this case, charango and guitar.
The other thing that catches the ear is the way the use of unexpected instruments and combinations of instruments can make a good tune even better. The tune they've dubbed "Ukrainian Stomp" appears twice; first with just dulcimer and guitar, then again as the last track, with Kurti on violin. Although the tune is patched together from two pieces written by a French Canadian, it has a decidedly Eastern European sound and feel, which is highlighted by the dulcimer's drone. The version with violin is even more interesting, adding a Gypsy element from Kurti's energetic performance.
The addition of dobro on tracks like "Cassiopeia's Dance," "Four Camels Waltzing" and the Portuguese "Valsa," gives an even different tone to the proceedings -- a mellow California vibe on "Cassiopeia's Dance" and a piquance to the languid "Four Camels."
The use of dulcimer to carry the melody on the American old-time tune "Wayfaring Stranger" was inspired. This Appalachian instrument takes this tune right back to its roots. Pairing it with an arrangement of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" works somewhat, but the sunny peppiness of the latter tune steals some of the poignance of the former.
The rest of the album suffers a little from an excess of mellowness, with several tracks in a row that range from slow to slower. "Airbag" is a lovely arrangement of a Radiohead hit; "Melodia" offers delicate counterpoint between guitar and dulcimer; and "Re:person I Knew," (sic) is a very blue and atmospheric take on a Bill Evans piece, but these and a few others tend to squander the energy of the opening tracks.
My advice? Watch for Dromedary on tour, because I bet they put on a mesmerizing show. And listen for their music between stories on public radio news programs, where it's sure to pop up regularly for the next several months.
You can check out the band's Web site, too