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.