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Punch Brothers

Punch – 2008 (Nonesuch)

Reviewed by Greg Yost

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As a member of the acoustic trio Nickel Creek, Chris Thile helped change perceptions of bluegrass by blending it with pop music to form a sound appealing to a more diverse audience.

Now, with his latest group, the Punch Brothers, Thile has broadened his musical experimentation to incorporate elements of classical composition into the contemporary bluegrass string quintet.

To bring his ambitious musical vision to life, Thile gathered together some of the most notable young talents in acoustic music. While Chris Eldridge (guitar), Greg Garrison (bass), Noam Pikelny (banjo) and Gabe Welcher (fiddle) come from varied musical backgrounds, they all have the chops required to complement Thile's virtuosic mandolin work.

The real focal point of this release is "The Blind Leaving the Blind," a four-movement composition that challenges listeners with a complex and multi-layered structure that is both rigid in construction and malleable enough to incorporate free-form improvisational segments. Thile also incorporates hauntingly disjointed vocals that add a deeply personal narrative element to the piece.

While fans of Nickel Creek's acoustic pop sound may be disappointed by the lack of any radio-friendly singles here, anyone willing to give Punch an honest listen will discover a very rewarding listening experience.