Thanks to a fortuitous “goat rodeo,” SONY MASTERWORKS released The Goat Rodeo Sessions, a landmark album project by four of the great instrumentalists in music today. The album uniquely showcases cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bassist Edgar Meyer, mandolinist Chris Thile and fiddler Stuart Duncan. While each musician is a renowned superstar in his own music sphere, they have come together now as a unified ensemble on a most remarkable and organic cross-genre project stemming from their friendship, and the title concept. The album also includes two vocal tracks featuring Thile and guest artist Aoife O’Donovan, the lead vocalist and writer for progressive bluegrass group Crooked Still.
A goat rodeo, according to Urban Dictionary, “is about the most polite term used by aviation people (and others in higher risk situations) to describe a scenario that requires about 100 things to go right at once if you intend to walk away from it.” Meyer first heard it used by his longtime music copyist in reference, he recalls, to “a very chaotic situation where a lot of agendas are kind of confused, and it’s hard to tell up from down.”
Relating it to The Goat Rodeo Sessions participants, all four lead extremely demanding if not chaotic lives in terms of scheduling, at least, making their meeting here, while much desired, still a near goat-rodeo miracle. But “goat rodeo” proved a perfect catch-all, too, in describing the otherwise hard-to-define nature of the quartet’s music.
While everyone personalized their own definition of “goat rodeo” Yo-Yo Ma sums it up: “In the end, what we’re trying to do is simply make music that transcends whatever roots or categories or backgrounds that it starts from–that just exists as something that we’re trying to express, through our community of values, as a moment in time creating very special music.”
“The song arrangements are goat rodeos,” says Thile, the young lion of the bluegrass mandolin, whose playing has fueled the progressive acoustic trio Nickel Creek and his current group Punch Brothers, and who collaborated with his multi-music genre hero Meyer on the 2008 album Edgar Meyer And Chris Thile. Adds Meyer, “We get a lot of pleasure in arrangements that have just enough twists and turns that you really can’t let your guard down, like each little thing has to go right: If I trip on one thing, that’s going to throw Chris, and then that’s going to throw Yo-Yo, and then Stuart’s going to have to make up a whole new part, because he’s not going to know where we are from what justhappened!” Ma adds, “The mix of four people together could really be dicey. But you’re building trust in a fabulous way through actually having lots of fun, and also supporting each other. To me, that’s the goat rodeo.”