Chris Eldridge Credit: Courtesy the artist

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Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge are both virtuosic guitarists in their chosen milieus—jazz and bluegrass, respectively—but they’ve long demonstrated a broad curiosity about other styles. Their desire to collaborate felt natural enough, and on 2014’s Avalon (Modern Lore) each player gently crossed the proverbial aisle—some denatured jazz manouche here, some spry pop bluegrass there, with Eldridge singing in a pretty yet bland conversational tone. The playing ended up being too polite, as if the pair were tentatively feeling each other out, but thanks to subsequent tours and further collaboration, that restraint has since vanished. On their much-improved follow-up, Mount Royal (Free Dirt), the melodic lines are rigorously integrated, the arrangements more involved, the harmonies more ravishing—and there are fewer tunes with vocals. The opener, “Bone Collector,” one of three cowritten tunes, draws from modern jazz in the harmonic interplay of its fluid improvisations without belying the track’s folk foundations. Other tunes tap more into the intricate forms Eldridge navigates with his main band, the Punch Brothers: “Everything Must Go” feels like a jazz ballad written by Paul McCartney, flush with a gorgeous melody and tender interplay. And when Eldridge does sing, as on an unexpected cover of Pearl Jam’s “Sleeping by Myself,” he feels connected to the material (even as he thankfully tamps down Eddie Vedder’s excesses).   v