Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Ben Harper - When It's Good - Diamonds on the Inside
Chris Thile - O Santo De Palvora - How to Grow a Woman From the Ground
The Ragbirds - How Can I Say - Wanderlove
Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet - Fall on My Knees - The Sparrow Quartet EP
The Rowdy Prairie Dogs - Tumbleweeds on Main Street - The Revenge of the Rowdy Prairie Dogs
Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck, & Mike Marshall - Uncommon Ritual - Uncommon Ritual
Leo Kottke - Unbar - Try and Stop Me
Bruce Springsteen - Pay me my Money Down - We Shall Overcome - The Seeger Sessions
Bob Dylan - It's All Over Now Baby Blue - No Direction Home
The Jazz Mandolin Project - The Milken Way - Xenoblast
Amy Millan - He Brings Out the Whiskey In Me - Honey From the Tombs
Eddie Vedder - Rise - Into The Wild Soundtrack
David Grisman and the Nashville Bluegrass Band - A Life of Sorrow - A Life of Sorrow
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Sierra Hull is a very talented young Mandolin player who has gotten help from a ton of bluegrass heavy weights on her upcoming album, including Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Rob Ickes, Tony Rice and Dan Tyminski. More info on the album can be found here.
Abigail Washburn is a singer, songwriter and clawhammer banjo player who first got our attention with The Sparrow Quartet EP, then impressed again with 2005's The Song of the Traveling Daughter, an album that mixed folk and bluegrass influences with traditional Chinese music (she even sang one song in Chinese). Her new album reunites the Sparrow Quartet, a band that includes banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, cellist Ben Sollee and fiddler Casey Driessen. It comes out May 20. The band is also playing at Bonnaroo this summer. The track "A Fuller Wine," from the upcoming album, can be found on her myspace page.
Two songs into Punch I was ready to call this album the best piece of modern acoustic music ever recorded. After giving the complete album a few more thorough listens it’s clear that that conclusion is a bit hasty, but that doesn’t mean my initial excitement was unwarranted.
Punch Brothers are the newest incarnation of the band that recorded mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile’s 2006 record How to Grow a Woman From the Ground. But Punch is a huge departure from the traditional bluegrass sound that characterized that record. The band features Thile, guitarist Chris Eldridge, bassist Greg Garrison, banjo player Noam Pikelny, and fiddle player Gabe Witcher.
The core of the album is “The Blind Leaving the Blind,” an epic four movement, forty-plus minute piece composed by Thile. The piece’s structure bears more resemblance to a classical concerto than a traditional bluegrass tune. Some sections weave together sweet bluegrass melodies with layers of harmony and counterpoint, while others have droning minor key picking behind Thile’s introspective lyrics, which reflect on his recent divorce. The performance is breathtaking in its precision, and the shear ambition of the composition is extremely impressive.
The rest of the album is made up of four songs written by the entire band. Of those four, the opening track, “Punch Bowl,” stands out. The song features major key violin passages shifting between dissonant chords and off beat rhythms; it’s just about the furthest thing from traditional bluegrass that’s ever been recorded by a five-piece bluegrass group.
The album isn’t perfect, however. For all its ambition and grandeur, “The Blind Leaving the Blind” lags at times with a little too much openness between sections. The track “Nothing, Then” is a repetitive stomp that’s really uninspiring considering the virtuosity of the group. And the final track, “It’ll Happen,” while a pretty song, is a bit of a snoozer to close such a progressive album.
Still, Punch is a vision of the future of bluegrass and acoustic music, a future where lightning fast licks aren’t the end of the story but the beginning, and where traditional instrumentation and complex song structures combine in beautiful ways.
Mighty Squirrel - The Grinding Grain - Mighty Squirrel
Bela Fleck - Sanctuary - Drive
Bright Eyes - If the Breakman Turns My Way - Cassadaga
Jerry Douglas - The Best Kept Secret - The Best Kept Secret
Butch Baldassari and David Schnaufer - Tater Patch - Appalachian Mandolin and Dulcimer
Andrew Bird - Masterfade - Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs
Stephane Grappelli and David Grisman - Swing - Stephane Grappelli and David Grisman
Jason Collett - Papercut Hearts - Here' s to Being Here
Edgar Meyer and Joshua Bell - Hang Hang - Short Trip Home
Ivan Rosenberg and Mike Conroy - Turkey Knob - The Old Spinning Wheel