The Phosphorescent Blues, a new album from Punch Brothers, will be released on January 27th. Here are two preview tracks…
My only problem with the Punch Brothers concert at The Clay Center Sunday night was an over-familiarity with their 2012 album, Who’s Feeling Young Now, which is one of my most listened-to albums of the past few years. My eagerness to hear those songs led to some small frustration with the inventiveness of their set list. It was however, a very memorable concert.
Crooked Still’s Aoife O’Donovan was a welcome solo opening act. Highlights from her set included “Lay My Burden Down” and “Beekeeper.” I also appreciated her mention of Irish singer Paul Brady having introduced her to “The Lakes of Pontchartrain,” and the crowd welcomed a mention of local coffee house Moxxee.
The Punch Brothers kicked off with a Josh Ritter cover, “Another New World,” from their Ahoy EP. A a good choice, the wave of music built to climax until a tsunami of sound was unleashed. Chris Thile was amiable as always during his crowd banter, mentioning that since he’s only played here on Sundays, he’s not sure Charleston WV exists outside of that day. During “This Girl,” the seeming effortlessness of Thile’s efficiency with his mandolin was staggering. Paul Kowert’s double bass was given time to shine during a new instrumental “about beer” and Noam Pikelny exhibited his banjo expertise during “This Is The Song.” Thile then managed to get a cheer for Debussy, leading the group in “Passepied” from the composers Suite Bergamasque. He even sang a phrase from “Clair de Lune,” the preceding movement, in his introduction.
Aoife O’Donovan joined the five guys for “Here and Heaven,” which was one of two tracks on which she collaborated with Thile for The Goat Rodeo Sessions. Her voice was very welcome and I wish it had seasoned some more familiar Punch Brothers sings.
The one-quarter West Virginian, warm-toned-suit wearing Chris Eldridge fronted the group for a highlight of the evening, cultivating crowd enthusiasm with particular emphasis on the lyric “well, she ain’t much to see but she looks good to me through the bottom of the glass.” The song was perhaps most famously recorded by The Seldom Scene, a band featuring Eldridge’s father Ben.
The band returned to Who’s Feeling Young Now for “New York City.” I closed my eyes and basked in its light. For me, there’s something magical about that particular set of songs. You can get a taste here.
I was taken with Thile’s movements. At times he looked like a flatfoot dancer, at times like a tree wavering in the wind. Not since Natalie Merchant whirled around the stage at the Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center in 2006 have I been so captivated by a performer’s motion. The concert wound down with another new track, “Julep,” which reminded me of the Kent Haruf novel Benediction.
Another charming moment came at the encore. Responding to the crowd’s pleas for a Radiohead cover, Thile said “Would you believe we have one all picked out? Bands and their plans.” I was very happy with their choice, “The Auld Triangle,” which originated in a Brendan Behan play and was featured on the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack. The concert concluded with one of their most popular songs, “Rye Whiskey,” with cries of “Oh Boy!” emanating from the audience.
These boys are busy. Gabe Witcher co-wrote and arranged some music for HBO’s True Detective. NPR is now streaming the new Nickel Creek (featuring Chris Thile) album for a limited time. Paul Kowart is featured on this new album with Brittany Haas & Jordan Tice. You can sample Noam Pikelny’s work outside the group here. And Chris Eldridge will soon tour with Julian Lage.
Some other notable Punch Brothers works include the song “Dark Days” for The Hunger Games soundtrack and three collaborations with Dierks Bentley on his Up on the Ridge album. And you can hear Punch Brothers live on Mountain Stage.
Punch Brothers Promotional Photographs by Danny Clinch, Posted Here With Permission of None Such Records
Guest Post By: Brendan
The Punch Brothers have transcended the Bluegrass genre and enter Radiohead territory on their latest album, Who’s Feeling Young Now? The instrumentation on the opening track “Movement and Location” is truly astounding, reminding me of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.” The album’s title track has an almost hip-hop beat. Chris Thile provides lead vocals, but fiddle player Gabe Witcher also steps up to mic. Witcher sings lead vocals on “Hundred Dollars,” which is one of two tracks on the album Thile wrote with Josh Ritter.
To say Anaïs Mitchell’s fourth album, Young Man in America, was my most anticipated release of the new year would be a chasmic understatement. Listening to this worthy followup to 2010’s spectacular “folk opera” Hadestown, I kept thinking Anaïs Mitchell is like a modern day Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan. Her epic lyrical narratives echo Guthrie’s masterful talent for blending the literary with the ordinary, while her fierce and unique vocal phrasing as well as her intricately multi-layered arrangements take Dylanesque to a whole new realm. Young Man in America, which features guests Chris Thile and Rachel Ries, will be released on Mitchell’s new independent label, Wilderland Records, on February 28th. I don’t think it premature to predict it will be on my year end list next December.
The sparse yet dramatic instrumental intro to the album’s opener, “Wilderland,” blooms into a haunting, humming choir of voices. The title of the track, coined by Anaïs after she witnessed a family being evicted from their home, gave her record label its name.
The album’s impressive title track is one of those songs that burrows deeper beneath the skin with each listen. Anaïs’ folk orchestra of players provide a lush and stunning arrangement, particularly in the horn-driven instrumental finale of the song.
The song’s lyrics, and the general theme of this entire song cycle, share the tale of a Prodigal Son of sorts. The titular “Young Man in America” is a rebellious youth seeking to quench his discontent and wanderlust with travels, drugs, alcohol and various other excesses and indulgences…all of which fail to satisfy his melancholy hunger.
“Dying Day” is another stunner with its choral harmonies, steady rhythm, poetic lyrics and Chris Thile’s lovely mandolin embellishments.
The beautifully tragic ballad “Shepherd,” based on her father’s novel The Souls of Lambs, sings of a worked-obsessed farmer whose wife dies in childbirth as he tends his fields.
Even tracks that didn’t initially captivate me, such as “Venus” and “Anne Marie”, grew on me with subsequent listens to the extent that I wondered why I didn’t love them at first listen.
To be honest, Young Man in America doesn’t compare to the magnificence of Hadestown or the delicate charm of 2007’s The Brightness. But then, what could? It’s probably like whatever Michelangelo created immediately after sculpting David and painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Some artistic heights are simply too lofty to surpass no matter how gifted the artists or how great the subsequent art. Taken on its own merit, however, Young Man in America is both an ambitious recording project and a beautifully rich tapestry of classic folk songwriting. Anaïs Mitchell just may be my generation’s most talented singer-songwriter.
At Home With Friends is the new collection of instrumental and vocal duets by Grammy winning violinist Joshua Bell, who is joined by an eclectic mix of guest musicians and singers. Among Bell’s collaborators are Sting, Regina Spektor, Kristin Chenoweth, Josh Groban, Chris Botti, and Tiempo Libre. The album will be released on September 29th.
The covers that Bell selected for At Home With Friends are as varied as its performers, beginning with a tender rendition of “I Loves You Porgy.” The sweet strings of Bell’s violin blend beautifully with the lonely jazz of Botti’s trumpet on the Porgy and Bess ballad.
Sting lends his voice to the sixteenth century love song “Come Again,” a version of which appeared on Sting’s The Journey & The Labyrinth. I preferred the simpler lute rendition on Sting’s album, but Bell’s arrangement is also very pretty.
Josh Groban’s voice makes a good companion for Bell’s violin in the theme from “Cinema Paradiso.” However, it’s my Cuban boys Tiempo Libre who steal the show with “Para Ti.” The song alternates between peppy brass coupled with rhythmic Latin percussion and soft orchestral interludes.
Kristin Chenoweth’s operatic soprano is lovely, but seems an ill fit for “My Funny Valentine.” And while Bell’s instrumentation in “Eleanor Rigby” is flawless, I think the cover would’ve been more effective had he chosen a different singer or recorded it sans vocals. Frankie Moreno’s voice is nice, just not strong enough to tackle this particular Beatles classic. A better choice may have been Nathan Gunn, whose powerful baritone follows in “O, Cease Thy Maiden Fair.”
Thanks to the wonders of technology, you can hear Rachmaninoff himself play piano in “Grieg: Sonata No. 3.” Bandoneon player Carel Kraayenhof joins Bell on two of the album’s instrumental tracks, most notably the theme from “Il Postino.” And Chris Thile’s mandolin gives the elegant melody of “Look Away” a plucky boost.
Unfortunately for me, Regina Spektor’s “Left Hand Song” is missing from the Sony advance. But it will be included in the final cut of the album. Until then, the hauntingly exotic “Variant Moods: Duet for Sitar & Violin” makes up for its absence. Written by Ravi Shankar, the piece features his daughter Anoushka.
I personally prefer Bell’s classical works – such as his previous release Vivaldi: The Four Seasons – but it is refreshing to hear him experiment with style and play with such a diverse group of musicians.
I was not granted permission to share an mp3 and there are no audio samples available online yet, but there should be streams added at the links below before the release date.