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Editors’ Notes

Mandolin player extraordinaire and former Nickel Creek member Chris Thile has a new outfit, Punch Brothers, and their debut release is a complex and impressive first outing. Right off, on “Punch Bowl,” things take a turn when a whiff of dissonance permeates the middle part of the track. You are suddenly aware that things are not what they seem, and you know by track’s end this won’t be your granddad’s bluegrass. The songs are rooted in the sorrow of Thile’s own personal pain of a marriage in crisis, and at the heart is an emotional, expansive four-part suite, “The Blind Leaving the Blind,” which demands the most active listening. With shifting time signatures, odd tunings and harmonies, occasional discord, and even jazzy interludes, these pieces are an avant-bluegrass opera, unraveling the narrative both in words and in astonishing musical textures. Of course, there are also simpler moments of musical pleasure, such as the fragile and hopeful “It’ll Happen,” with violin, banjo and mandolin executing a beautifully choreographed pas de trois with all the grace those instruments are capable of.

Customer Reviews

Breathtaking Bluegrass

Chris Thile (formerly of Nickel Creek), himself perhaps the most talent, virtuosic mandolin player who ever lived, has surrounded himself with four other string musicians of nearly equal quality. These are players who have so mastered their instruments, and the art forms of bluegrass and folk, that they play with seamless, effortless joy. Punch is an example of how touching and lyrical bluegrass can be, but it also plays with the genre by interweaving elements of folk, pop, rock, and a variety of traditional ethnic music. Punch is the group's first album as the Punch Brothers, though the group played on Chris Thile's solo album called How to Grow a Woman From The Ground. The centerpiece of Punch is a 40 minute, four movement bluegrass 'symphony', titled The Blind Leaving the Blind, that display the group's unmatched musicianship as well as Thile's maturity as a composer. The symphony allows Punch Brothers ample time to play with rhythm, meter, and harmony in the bluegrass style. The result is truly breathtaking.

Leaving the Blind - Joining the Seeing.

As with any great art, one must be appalled before one can recognize the beauty within the piece. Such is the case with "Punch" -- It is a shockingly refreshing bucket of cold water. The album is in itself a dramatic narrative Thile's divorce, as it begins with unfaithfulness, and ends with a hopeful conclusion of prosperous life (both physical and musical I am sure) in the future. It breaks any preconceptions one might hold about acoustic music, and does so flawlessly. It is originality for originality's sake. It is beautiful, and it certainly does not belong in Versailles. I hope Thile enjoys his new found vision as much as I do.

Punch, brothers! Punch with care!

It's no surprise that the release of “Punch,” the first record from the new super-group, the Punch Brothers, is a revolutionary, genre-bending, musical masterpiece. Could we expect anything less from Chris Thile and his fellow band of musical prodigies? Absolutely not. “Punch” narrates the ill-fated marriage and divorce of Thile. The record isn't a feel-good, make-you-smile album; it deals with heavier issues - divorce, heartbreak, and faith. While bluegrass purists may have issues with genre-bending of the Punch Brothers, "Punch" centers on the matters that are essentially at the heart of bluegrass - the presence of pain and the heaviness of life. The Punch Brothers primarily express themselves through their instruments, though vocals are placed throughout the record. While most of “The Blind Leaving the Blind” is instrumental, the music is heartbreaking; we feel the emotion and the weight of the situation on Thile. “Punch” requires active listening. The Punch Brothers beg you not only to listen to their record, but they also want you to wrestle with the music, to discover it, and to understand it. This is the complex music to which you listen over and over again, and you understand more and more about it with each listen. Every time you listen to the record, the music unfolds itself more, both emotionally and musically. It’s both beautiful and challenging, which is what music actually should be. “Punch” is a fabulous masterpiece from five musical geniuses. It is a great purchase for anyone who appreciates legitimately brilliant music. Hopefully, this is just a taste of what’s to come from this dazzling band.


Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '00s, '10s

After Nickel Creek disbanded in 2007, mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile assembled an all-star quintet called Punch Brothers (the name comes from the Mark Twain short story Punch, Brothers, Punch!) with guitarist Chris Eldridge, formerly of the Infamous Stringdusters; bassist Greg Garrison, who has played with Ron Miles and Leftover Salmon; banjo player Noam Pikelny, who has worked with John Cowan and Tony Trischka, and violinist Gabe Witcher, a sought-after session musician and a member of Jerry Douglas'...
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