At a time when the word "diversity" has begun to lose its luster, Dromedary proves that their first effort isn't just zeitgeist. Dromedary is the product of two very distinct and very different young musicians who play so seamlessly that telling them apart is almost impossible. The instrumentation is unique: Andrew Reissiger plays a charango (an Andean folk instrument which is like a small, five double-stringed guitar, usually made from a armadillo shell) and Rob McMaken plays mandolin and cümbüs (pronounced "joom-bush", it is a Turkish, long-necked, fretless instrument with stretched skin over a metal bowl). These bizarre, esoteric instruments, along with acoustic guitar, create Dromedary's intricate sound.
Taking inspiration from the cultures and folk-styles that spawned these instruments, the two musicians improvise by blending Middle Eastern and South American music, throwing in some jazz chords while they're at it to be on the safe side. Astoundingly, there is never a misstep; the two intuitively know exactly what to play, interacting harmonically. Complex note sequences run around each other like two squirrels around a tree. My first thought was of Jerry Garcia's playful bluegrass recordings with mandolin player David Grisman; there is such an innate connection at work here that the effect is intoxicating. Each song is imbued with a quality that demands that the listener actively listen to it, rather than insouciantly bestowing a label. For example, if you hear a tremeloed mandolin note, you might think of Venice, but more likely you'll be concentrating on the charango chords behind it and wondering how the passage will resolve itself.
The album opens with a traditional, two-part Andean folk song called "Fado Tríado", which starts out as a ballad, then assumes a vivacious, rollicking tempo (Reissiger and McMaken are doubtless intimate with the work of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos). The vitality and reality of each piece is key; you almost feel as if you're listening to a tribal gathering of Quechua or Aimara Indians. My favorite is a song called "Daily Huayño", an achingly beautiful lullaby that is slowly arpeggiated and soloed-over by the mandolin. In a word: devastating.
You can't go anywhere on the New York subway without hearing a terrible pan pipe-lead folk band from the pampas of god-knows-where, and it can be a real turn-off. Believe me when I say that this duo's sheer technical virtuosity will flabbergast even the most jaded, insular xenophobe. I'm not just saying that because these guys are from my old home town of Athens, Georgia, but because they have transformed folk that is as old as the hills -- made it new and fresh again through their exuberant playing. This kind of ability is rare, and should receive as many plaudits as can reasonably be showered upon it.