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.
Chris Thile and Michael Daves, two legends of modern bluegrass (Thile as a mandolin phenom and Daves as a superior guitar picker) have decided to team up with Jack White at Third Man Studios in Nashville to record Sleep With One Eye Open, due out May 10th on Nonesuch. The album, which features the two phenomenal musicians recorded during four days of marathon studio sessions, may be the closest Thile has come to recording a “straightforward” bluegrass record, but no one’s expecting the duo to play it staid and conventional.
“Mandolin and guitar and two male voices—it’s such a good sound,” Thile says of the new album. ”It was important for us was to get that brother duet thing, but with this Lower East Side punk energy. One of the most enjoyable things about this experience was to underline the slightly delinquent side of bluegrass.”
And while Thile has frequently been something of a bastard stepson to the bluegrass elite, who have accused him of modernizing the genre at the expense of centuries-old traditions, he’s always been at the forefront of creating inventive, original concepts that push this roots music forward into a new century. Here’s hoping this album helps bridge the gap between the new guard and the traditionalists, because Chris Thile is by all accounts the most interesting musician bluegrass has had to offer a new generation.
Check out the title track from Sleep With One Eye Open below: