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Punch Brothers

Antifogmatic – 2010 (Nonesuch)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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CDs by Punch Brothers

Taking every bit of music that randomly pops into your head and piecing those samples into 10 separate songs might seem like a testimonial to your musical coolness when in reality it's more an ego-driven recipe for disaster. The Punch Brothers' 2008 debut teetered close to that edge, yet never completely toppled off thanks to the band's individual abilities as titans of their respective stringed instruments. The elusive meshing of style and taste was just a riff or two away. While not completely nailing it on their followup release, the Punch Brothers' latest is a much more coherent collective of Mozart-like classical movements, Tin Pan Alley lyrics, Beatles-esque harmonies, knee-slapping bluegrass and smoky jazz riffs.

Led by ex-Nickel Creek mandolinist Chris Thile, the masterfully performed and produced album is at times boisterous contrasted by dreamy, brooding passages. Welcome Home is a 6 1/2-minute gem as Thile's vocals soar above several progressions, bridged by Noam Pikelny's rolling banjo and Gabe Witcher's intense fiddling. Rye Whiskey and Don't Need No are in-your-face acoustic foot-stompers, while the closing track This Is the Song (Good Luck) is a thoughtful, encouraging ode to love.

Unlike their debut - an intriguing yet uneven collection of tunes surrounding Thile's multi-part (and arguably egotistical) suite The Blind Leaving the Blind - the Punch Brothers' latest effort strikes the elusive balance between eclectic tastes and a listenable, conventional album.