Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I wrote this awhile ago, but Acoustic Guitar finally published it here. Lately, I've been getting into Chris's new CD with Edgar Meyer. When does this guy sleep?
The Punch Brothers are a new band composed of some of the hottest young musicians in bluegrass—Chris Thile (mandolin and lead vocals), Chris Eldridge (guitar), Greg Garrison (bass), Noam Pikelny (banjo), and Gabe Witcher (fiddle), but there is little here that traditional bluegrass fans will recognize. Combining early-20th-century harmonic ambiguity and dissonance, angsty alt-pop-influenced lyrics and rhythms, and pastoral minimalist counterpoint, as well as contemporary folk and bluegrass, the Punch Brothers have created a new kind of string music as revolutionary and distinct as that of Bill Monroe, David Grisman, Django Reinhardt, or Alison Krauss, but it’s hard to imagine Punch Music becoming a musical genre. This will not be easy music for musicians to imitate. Time signatures and tonal centers shift regularly, there is rarely a clear delineation between soloist and accompaniment, and written and improvised sections merge seamlessly. The core of the album is Thile’s four-movement, 42-minute suite “The Blind Leaving the Blind,”written in reaction to his recent divorce. Though each movement includes lyrics and vocal melodies (many of which are hauntingly gorgeous), Thile eschews any regular kind of song form; the vocal sections are just one part of the whole, integrated with the breathtaking instrumental work. The suite is bookended by four shorter pieces written by the band. The dissonant bluegrass of the leadoff track, “Punch Bowl,” gets you ready for the expansive central suite, while the three concluding pieces operate as both a series of epilogues and a preview of the next Punch Brothers group effort, although it may take awhile to completely recover from the auditory effect of this Punch. (Nonesuch, nonesuch.com)