Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New Chris Thile album

I had a birthday last week, and I was suddenly inundated with Buffy, Firefly, and Pinky and the Brain DVDs. Thank you all.

I also have some new music. I've been trying to get together some reviews. Jars of Clay has a new album, Good Monsters, and what I've heard of it (Sarah has it mostly) sounds really great. G. Love put out one called Lemonade that is groovy in the extreme. I also picked up two Emmylou Harris albums from the library. I guess the music stars all aligned.

But the one I actually reviewed at Amazon is the new solo album by the mandolin player from Nickel Creek, Chris Thile. It's called How to Grow a Woman from the Ground.

Mandolin prodigy Chris Thile's last album, Deceiver, was a little off-kilter. He sang with himself and played every instrument on the album. What resulted was an almost private lyric in an unhappy marriage with merely average instrumentation (aside from the mandolin and a few other bright spots).

Deceiver is an illustration of Donne's axiom, "No man is an island, entire of itself," along with its lesser-known corollary, "so suck it up and get a band." How to Grow a Woman from the Ground provides the proof, QED.

Here, Thile is content to be first among equals. His emotional vision is intact, but he's brought in musicians to rival and even surpass the lyrics. With five covers and five instrumentals, Thile is not a one-man show. He often takes a back seat to the awe-inspiring play of his bluegrass bandmates, and blends into the background on some great harmony singing.

I find it very difficult to single out songs for individual praise. I'm a fan of Wayside, The Beekeeper, and Heart in a Cage, but you'll have to choose your own. It's Thile's most complete album to date, and better yet, it sounds fun where Deceiver was merely earnest.

You'll listen to it over and over again.


Anonymous said...

found you randomly--i have the chris thile album and i LOVE it. I've only heard certain tracks from deceiver but I liked that one as well. I actually think the two projects were meant to be two completely different things. how to grow a woman, even though it's not traditional, is still a lot more traditional than deceiver was, but i think that was the point he was trying to make with deceiver.

anyway, good review! you're right, i've been listening to the album non-stop since i got it.

Dan Lewis said...

Thanks very much.

Another way to think about it is to listen to the solo albums by Chris Thile (and Sean Watkins) along with the ones they did with Nickel Creek. Sean Watkins brought in a bunch of guest musicians for his album 26 Miles, and then Deceiver came out; comparing the two, I kind of wished Chris Thile had actually had a drummer (etc.) instead of playing the drums (etc.) himself.

There is also definitely a progression of subject matter and arrangement. Deceiver came out between This Side and Why Should the Fire Die. You can hear the influence of the complex melodies and subject matter of Deceiver (and of course the heavier rock elements) on Why Should The Fire Die.

I think Deceiver isn't quite as good as the new album, but it has a lot of good points to it. Sort of like Chris Thile's mini White Album.