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Chris Thile - How to Grow a Woman from the Ground

How to Grow a Woman
from the Ground

Chris Thile

Sugar Hill SUG-CD-4107

Sugar Hill Records
P. O. Box 55300
Durham, NC 27717-5300

Available from Sugar Hill Records.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Gawd Almighty but this 'new grass' stuff is heady fare! Chris Thile is the whiz-bang mandolin player from the highly successful Nickel Creek and a cat who can play like no one's business. Did I say 'play'? Well, he also composes some of the meanest stomps, instrumentals, brisk-up dance floor hollers, and wistful ballads as well. Sings right purty, too, Jethro, especially on cuts like You're an Angel and I'm Gonna Cry, where he strips down the combo and slows up on the fretburning long enough to re-introduce the mando as capable of easy graces and delicate piquancy.

You won't realize that there isn't a percussive instrument on the entire CD until well into the disc. Greg Garrison handles the sole rhythm duties on bass while Chris Eldridge and his guitar often cover a secondary role in the same zone. Gabe Witcher's fiddle and Noam Pikelny's banjo fill out the rest of the roster, with the latter's tones often melding into Thile's lines for an unusual resonance. Cuts like Heart in a Cage demonstrate how rock and other modern styles have influenced trad bluegrass to mutate into the variant modes it now enjoys. Thile's' hook in the song is unexpected, as are the chord choices and arrangements, but what Poco and other previous generations' ensembles laid down is now being picked up and improved upon ferociously.

Eldridge and Witcher make up the majority of the backing vox throughout How to Grow, according quite nicely, genuine and harmonic to a fault. Thile, though, rightly commands the foreground and makes the most of it. I'm Yours if You Want Me starts as a vocal solo, accompanied first only by a sparse mando side conversation, abstract and thoughtful, as the song briefly, slightly, and slowly builds before falling back. Despite the electric bravado of so much of the CD, this very nearly becomes the outing's center.

However, the many brisk tempos, outrageously innovative approaches, and daunting showmanship are the truest centerpieces in Woman, pulsing with energy, inspirational, provoking even those unsympathetic to the style to sit down and marvel. If the elder genres have previously been suffering due to a form of advancing decrepitude induced by a welter of technological and stylistic shifts, CDs like Chris Thile's How to Grow a Woman from the Ground are laboring mightily to re-invest a worthy American sound with fresh vigor and an agelessness that promises to be passed on down the line.

Track List:

  • Watch 'at Breakdown
  • Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground (Jack White)
  • Stay Away
  • O Santo de Polvora (Milladoiro)
  • Wayside (Back in Time) (Rawlings / Welch)
  • You're an Angel, and I'm Gonna Cry
  • How to Grow a Woman from the Ground (Thomas Brosseau)
  • The Beekeeper
  • Brakeman's Blues (Jimmie Rodgers)
  • If the Sea was Whiskey (public domain)
  • Cazadero (Paul Shelasky)
  • Heart in a Cage (Julian Casablancas)
  • I'm Yours If You Want Me
  • The Eleventh Reel
All songs written by Chris Thiele except as noted.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2007, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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