His willingness to experiment appears to have caused something of a furore in the...
Tim Nelson 2008-01-04
You wait an eternity for a bluegrass child prodigy and then… along comes Chris Thile with his fifth solo record, to say nothing of his five albums with Nickel Creek (formed with fellow third-graders at age eight) and umpteen collaborative efforts (including covers of work by J.S. Bach and Charlie Parker). However, the superbly titled How to Grow a Woman serves as an excellent entry point to Thile's body of work.
Whereas previous solo albums such as 2001's Not All Who Wander Are Lost and 2004's The Deceiver were noted for their experimentalism and intricacy, this has something of the communal feel of Thile's work with the now defunct Nickel Creek, perhaps not surprising since his new band, the recently re-named Punch Brothers, debut here. The diversity of this album is astounding, encompassing the traditional ''If the Sea was Whiskey'', Jimmie Rodger's ''Brakeman's Blues', Gillian Welch's ''Wayside (Back in Time)'', as well as covers of the White Stripes (''Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground'') and the Strokes (''Heart in a Cage''), a variety of instrumentals (the opening “Watch ‘at Breakdown” is a virtuoso performance, and ''The Beekeeper'' shows Thile hasn't neglected his more jazzy approach) and original material.
Thile's originals here are considerably more downbeat, perhaps unsurprising bearing in mind the band was originally formed to 'commiserate about our failed relationships' but the songs remain cathartic when they're not uplifting. For a man still in his mid-twenties, Thile seems awfully world-weary at times, but then he has already packed three careers into one. His willingness to experiment appears to have caused something of a furore in the bluegrass scene, and the controversy is further stoked here by his – gasp! – swearing on the Strokes cover, but, frankly, you'd have to be cloth-eared not to enjoy this beautiful record. Apparently his next release will include a forty-minute suite based on his divorce entitled ''The Blind Leading The Blind'', but you might want to sample these fruits first before following him into that abyss.