Year of the Album — #054
Chris Thile & Michael Daves – “Sleep With One Eye Open” (2011, Nonesuch)
If Chris Thile is doomed to be wrongly pigeonholed as the man who modernized bluegrass and then killed it, as many misguided bluegrass fans still deride him, he’ll always be able to point to Sleep With One Eye Open as the album where he played to the conventions of the genre. What’s all the better is that the album stands as a testament to just how amazing a phenom he truly is, as he and guitarist / vocalist Michael Daves take bluegrass back to its roots while maintaining a sense of glorious fun about the proceedings.
Recorded at Jack White’s Third Man Studios during a madcap three-day “live to tape” session, the album is at once the most invigorating and impressive album Thile has been a part of since leaving Nickel Creek. With the Punch Brothers he gets to dip his toes in the musical pool filled by Bela Fleck and his contemporaries, but on this album he takes on Bill Monroe and Del McCoury and proves he more than deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as such legends. At this point if there are still people out there saying Thile isn’t traditional enough for bluegrass, it’s time to kick them to the curb. The rest of us can enjoy this thoroughly fresh breath of air. At this point he’s proved there’s nothing left to prove for one of contemporary bluegrass’s pure originals.
These Nashville cats arrive on the scene with a fully fleshed out sound that takes the likes of Nickel Creek and Alison Krauss’s Union Station and melds this with the capability of handling seventies-era California country with equal ease. They’ve earned praise from Sara Evans, with whom they’ve toured, and they’ve performed on large stages, everywhere from the Grand Ole Opry to the Late Show with David Letterman, and everywhere else in between.
My only question: Where has this band been all my life? Their sound pieces together just about everything there is to love about contemporary bluegrass, country and Americana, without trying to court pop-country success that would dilute their sound in the process. More than that, they’ve got stage presence and the ability to sound great in a studio setting and on a live stage. Their latest album, Calico, has been out since January, and it deserves to make more waves in the country world.
Check out a recent live performance below with new song “She Just Is,” as the band opened for Sara Evans last fall:
Then check out their cover of “The Chain,” by Fleetwood Mac … which unbelievably only has TWELVE HITS on YouTube! What the hell is wrong with the world?
This is music which deserves to be given notice. As soon as I’ve had a chance to hear the entire album, I’ll definitely have to give Calico a review here officially. Until then, spread the word! This band’s the real deal.
If you have wondered what a hybrid of bluegrass and christian pop would sound like, Texas-based quartet the Walla Recovery gives you a pretty good idea with “She Said,” their latest single (stream it at the link above) which has a definite Nickel Creek meets Caedmon’s call vibe to it.
The band asks you on their website to “step off the platform of nostalgic ‘what-ifs’ and embark on a journey away from unfulfilled longing and toward sacred forgetfulness.” And if the music wasn’t top-notch, with heartfelt introspective lyrics and a beautiful, melodic core, that might come off as hopelessly pretentious.
Rather, however, I found myself, after just a few repeat listens, longing to hear the rest of the band’s new EP With Trembling, which sounds like it owes a great deal to introspective Christian artists like Derek Webb. For adventurous ears, this is a listening risk that pays off in a big way. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
If you want an mp3 download of the song, the band is giving it away on their official website, if you’re willing to tweet or facebook a friend, or provide an email address for their mailing list.