The Bluegrass Situation: Roots Culture Redefined

Sam Reider, ‘Valley of the Giants’

Feb 6, 2018

Accordionist, pianist, and composer Sam Reider was inspired by wandering through the surreal landscape of Valle de los Gigantes in Baja California, Mexico. The park is named for the gargantuan cardón cactus, a species that resembles saguaros of the U.S., but grows larger and taller and can live longer than 300 years. It might seem that the Sonoran desert — dotted by enormous, otherworldly plants — would evoke meditative, minimal, dreamy sounds — a musical reflection of desolation and austere beauty — but “Valley of the Giants,” off Reider’s debut album, Too Hot to Sleep, is anything but.

It’s rollicking and frenetic, lilting and energetic — more like the Wild West, replete with stampedes and tumbleweeds, than a silent, spiritual desert. The album’s roster of savvy pickers (Dominick Leslie on mandolin; Alex Hargreaves on fiddle; Roy Williams and Grant Gordy on guitars; David Speranza on bass; and Eddie Barbash on saxophone) pull from their overarching bluegrass expertise to drive the tune forward at a pace just shy of breakneck, galloping-horse-chase soundtrack speeds. Dashes of folk influences from around the world are sprinkled into its string band aesthetic like melodic Easter eggs. Reider’s accordion is the unyielding anchor, giving a dose of soulful, raw timelessness, but with a modern crispness and confidence. Somehow, it simultaneously conjures arid Baja and transatlantic scenes in an Irish pub or the countryside in France. It’s like a mini-vacation, wrapped up tidily within an instrumental.

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