Caroline Shaw & Sō Percussion
Let the Soil Play Its Simple Part
The composer, violinist, and singer Caroline Shaw’s voice is the foundation of her wide cultural impact, whether blended with the borderless vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth or the digitally sweetened strains of Kanye West. As such, it’s surprising that Shaw, the youngest winner ever of the Pulitzer Prize for Music, has done so much—including projects with luminaries like ACME and The Attacca Quartet—without releasing an album focused on her own voice, an instrument of renowned expressive range that distills folk and court music traditions to numinous essences.
That finally changed in the summer of 2021 when Nonesuch released Let the Soil Play Its Simple Part. It stems from the 2018 album Narrow Sea, which Shaw wrote for Sō Percussion, the dauntless ensemble of Eric Cha-Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, and Jason Treuting. With an “exhilarating blend of precision and anarchy,” The New Yorker said, the group can play everything from Reich to The National on anything from wood blocks to amplified cacti.After working together as a composer and an ensemble, Shaw and Sō decided to use the rest of their studio time to work together as a band, creating on the fly. Let the Soil Play Its Simple Part is the stunning result, with typically wide-ranging themes drawn from James Joyce, Anne Carson, and the Sacred Harp songbook. Each song is an intimate conversation with a different member of Sō—Quillen’s steel drums in the title track, Sliwinski’s marimba in a reinterpretation of ABBA’s “Lay All Your Love on Me”—and the interplay of spontaneous and composed elements makes Shaw’s long-awaited vocal spotlight all the more revelatory.