Avalon, the first full-length album from the acoustic guitar duo of Julian Lage and Chris “Critter” Eldridge, will be released on October 7, 2014. It was produced by friend and fan Kenneth Pattengale of the Milk Carton Kids and recorded live from the stage of the 1920’s-era Avalon Theatre in Easton, Maryland over two days last April. The duo’s previous EP, Close To Picture, which focused on original compositions, was an effort to explore, as Eldridge puts it, “the sounds and textures that are uniquely possible on a flat-top steel-string guitar.” Avalon is an unfiltered document of the pair’s live set, a mix of originals and covers that illustrate the breadth of the American songbook as Lage and Eldridge perceive it, incorporating bluegrass, country, gospel, old-time music and jazz. There was no playback, no overdubs, just the duo’s eloquent, in-the-moment musical repartee, all channeled through Pattengale’s discerning ear.
Their first EP, says Lage, “was kind of a grand experiment. Then Critter started singing more songs and we developed this show, all pretty accidentally, a ninety-minute survey of American acoustic music. It could be a Jimmie Rodgers tune, it could be a more esoteric instrumental original, or it could be a Seldom Scene bluegrass tune. They all sound like us when we play them, and it’s pretty cool.”
Avalon indeed features songs by Jimmie Rodgers (“Any Old Time”), bluegrass legend Norman Blake (“Ginseng Sullivan”), Paul Craft (“Keep Me From Blowing Away,” originally recorded by the Seldom Scene), and George and Ira Gershwin (a lovely version of “Someone To Watch Over Me,” with a gentle, almost Chet Baker-like vocal from Eldridge). Pattengale heard Lage and Eldridge perform at the 2014 edition of the Winter Grass Festival, held every February in Tacoma, Washington, and came to all four of their sets, entranced by the sound of their vintage Martin guitars. (Lage plays a 1939 000-18: Eldridge a 1937 D-18). He encouraged Lage and Eldridge to commit their live set to tape and set up the Avalon Theatre dates for them.
The Grammy-nominated Lage has been highly regarded in jazz and new music circles for his own work as well as for his collaborations with such artists as Nels Cline, Fred Hersch, and Jim Hall, among many others. A child prodigy, Lage was the young subject of an acclaimed short documentary, Jules At Eight ; at the mere age of 11, he accompanied vibes master Gary Burton on a Grammy Awards telecast. Fellow Grammy nominee Eldridge, an Oberlin Conservatory grad who studied with bluegrass guitar legend Tony Rice, is equally noted in the progressive bluegrass world for his stints with the Seldom Scene and, The Infamous Stringdusters, which led to his joining Chris Thile’s adventurous quintet, Punch Brothers. It was backstage after a Boston Punch Brothers gig that Eldridge first met Lage. Over the course of several years, a casual friendship led to a solid musical partnership.
In his Avalon liner notes, says Pattengale, “the two disparate worlds of these two singular musicians push and pull at one another to create true harmony.” The result is an album that rewards the time it takes to listen all the way through, to this moment captured, this dialogue preserved, in which familiar songs become new again in the hands of these supremely gifted, intuitive players.