Who’s Feeling Young Now?
2 stars (out of 5)
By Aaron Keith Harris
When Nickel Creek disbanded, I was excited that Chris Thile, the greatest mandolin player in the history of the universe, would be free from trying to please the modern country market and let his talent and creativity take acoustic music fans places they had never been.
How to Grow a Woman from the Ground, his 2006 solo effort featuring three members of the current Punch Brothers lineup (Chris Eldredge on guitar, Noam Pikelny on banjo, and Gabe Witcher on fiddle), came the closest to fulfilling that potential, though Thile at times did stoop to doing a mawkish John Mayer impression.
Covers of Jack White’s “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” and the Strokes’ “Heart in a Cage” had an angry young man with Jaggeresque charisma pouring his heart out with impassioned, raw vocals and shredding mandolin lines. Covers of Gillian Welch’s “Wayside (Back in Time)” and Jimmie Rodgers’ “Brakeman’s Blues” had Thile and the band delivering well-known material with freshness and elan, while a couple of the instrumentals were both tuneful and intricate.
Sadly, on this, the third Punch Brothers effort, the emphasis is solely on the latter, with arrangements that simply make your head hurt as you try to stick with the time signatures and nimbly picked scales as they fly past or, more frequently, just lie there.
Exhibit A is “Kid A,” a perfectly played cover of an unlistenable instrumental track by the obnoxiously pretentious Radiohead. That a band as supremely talented as Thile’s would waste their talents and our time on such a soulless exercise is a waste.
The rest of the 11 tracks on this disc have promise, but none of them reach it. They’re full of jaw-dropping instrumental passages that never join up to go anywhere. The whole experience is like being seated next to a beautiful woman at a dinner party only to find out during the salad course that she’s incapable of talking about anything but herself.