There’s an architectural quality to Eli West’s Tapered Point of Stone, a careful sense of craft that methodically builds from one note and one instrument to the next. You can hear it in West’s choice of guitars—a pair of well-aged 1930s Martins that he plays alongside banjo and mandolin—and you can feel it in the richly sympathetic trio he’s enlisted: Andrew Marlin (Mandolin Orange) on mandolin, Clint Mullican (Mandolin Orange) on bass, and Christian Sedelmeyer (Jerry Douglas Band) on fiddle.
West works as a designer, so it’s no coincidence the album’s strongest songs have something to do with space, from the title track’s advice to build “a house of soul and bone” to “The Hearth,” where a fireplace is the only thing left standing in “a house undone by time,” and “Brick in the Road,” where West tries to find his way in the cobbled streets of Wales. Deeply rooted in the Pacific Northwest, West has a keen sense of place that gives his playing on guitar, clawhammer banjo, and mandolin a fine-grained sensibility, a thoughtfulness, and a warm precision.
Flatpicking the Martins, West’s touch is light, nimble, and beautifully fluid, without a hard edge in sight, and whether he’s writing songs or instrumentals, the ideas are first-rate, combining the concision of old-time with the far-ranging improvisation of newgrass. After 2016’s The Both, the surprise here isn’t that the pieces are so well-structured and the notes so well-placed, but that all these elements combine so naturally into a richly emotional, deeply satisfying whole.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.