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Punch

4.2 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

The Punch Brothers are the most prodigious musicians from the cutting edge of bluegrass and folk music. The quintet was brought together by former Nickel Creek star Chris Thile who is a virtuosic mandolin player. Guitarist Chris Eldridge is a member of The Infamous Stringdusters plus occasional guest star with his dad, Ben, and his legendary combo, The Seldom Scene. Bassist Greg Garrison has recorded with John Scofield and Vasser Clements, among many others, and he regularly sits in with Leftover Salmon. Fiddle player Gabe Witcher is a first-call studio player with a big sound and immaculate intonation and he has been featured on the Oscar-winning soundtracks of Babel and Brokeback Mountain, amongst countless other films. Banjo player Noam Pikelny is an alumnus of Leftover Salmon and the John Cowan Band.
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (February 26, 2008)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Nonesuch
  • ASIN: B0010YO8M6
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,086 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
Imagine this scenario, because this is what you may feel like during your first few times listening to this masterpiece.

You are part of a moving audience on a barge on a river floating past dozens of the best string bands ever formed.

Each band plays a different form: bluegrass, new grass, classical grass, Stravinsky, Mozart, chamber music, toe tapping, melancholic.

You hear something you really love and you want to stop. But the barge keeps moving.

There will be many for whom this experience is too strange to really get it.

But this band is so totally amazing and the playing is so good, you should not want to miss it.

Once you get to the 7th or 8th time through, and listen to the lyrics more carefully, you will begin to see the logic, the classical structure, the repetition of themes. The composer moves between mourning and hope and the music follows the emotion.

One thing that is consistent in the album is the excellent, infrequent, very focused singing on the part of Chris and the band. The singing is an accent and a sort of narration for your journey down the river. There is no whining or harsh notes. It's quite beautiful.

It's also notable that this is not a band backing Chris on the Mandolin. It is highly integrated and features the banjo (Noam Pikelny) and violin (Gabe Witcher) in many of the segments.

Chris actually plays more of a supporting role musically. Gabe Witcher's soulful and soaring fiddle is really the voice of much of the music. But the rest of the time, the 5 play as one. The dynamics are stunning, often swooping from raging bluegrass down to whisper soft fast picking and then back again.

So what is it about? No, it's not just about Thile's divorce.
Read more ›
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Format: Audio CD
I'll admit it, I'm the first to consider myself somewhat of a music snob. I appreciate music with substance. My favorite albums are the ones that I didn't like the first time around, but grew on me as I appreciated the subtleties and nuances that tied them together.

I didn't like this album on first listen. It's certainly filled with enough subtlety and nuance, but after a few spins, it's not growing on me. I've listened to enough Nickel Creek and Thile's solo albums to appreciate Thile's skill at venturing out to the fringes of popular music generes, and bringing back with him interesting and surprising takes on music, but I think he may have ventured too far for most on this one.

The problem lies in his reliance on atonal music. It's very abstract-- it lacks context and is seemingly aimless wandering up and down the fretboard; the instruments all seem to be playing different songs. A great example of this is the first two minutes or so of Blind Leaving the Blind Movement 2. The album has some great melodic moments mixed in with the atonal. I particularly like the comparatively simple "Nothing, Then".

I don't doubt that this album is genius, I don't doubt that those more musically inspired than myself can truly appreciate this album. But as for me, it's over my head.

Update:

After several more listens, I have to admit it has grown on me somewhat, I do enjoy Movement 1, Movements 3 and 4 have their moments, but the album is indisputably melancholy, and is simply not the pleasure to listen to that Thile's albums have been.
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Format: Audio CD
I just saw The Punch Brothers at the Troubadour in Hollywood Feb 28. They played most of this CD. I was totally knocked out by the virtuosity of each member. The music is incredibly complex, but that did not get in the way of it being a helluva lot of fun to listen to and tap a toe to. These guys are exploding the boundaries of acoustic music. On one tune, I felt like I could have been in a small cafe in Paris, listening to acoustic jazz. Then off to a rip roaring hoedown in Nashville in the next piece. Lightning fast licks, and stop on a dime precision. Chris Thile should be a major pop star. He has the look, is able to engage in witty banter with the audience, has an incredible singing voice, and is probably the greatest mandolin player of all time. Yikes.
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Format: Audio CD
It's been really awesome to watch Chris Thile mature as an artist over the last several years. Punch shows him at the top of his game with a line-up of incredible musicians that I think will be the heirs to the thrones of Bela Fleck, Mike Marshall, Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas and the rest of that crowd. This record really illustrates the eclecticism of Thile's musical tastes and influencing, ranging from bluegrass, to bebop to Bartok. Expressive orchestration, innovative compositional techniques and explosive technical playing saturate this record. This disc is full of energy and top notch performance.

The only trouble some might experience with this album is that some may feel that there is just too much to take in. Think about if King Crimson played acoustic folk instruments instead of the typical rock band arsenal. Especially with the epic, 4 part, 42 minute suite, The Blind Leaving the Blind, some may simply become overwhelmed with the complexity of Thile's writing. Some may feel that Thile has written the musician's music. I've always been a sucker for musicians outside of the classical music world trying to write music that is similar in scale and artistry of a great symphony, and I think that the Punch Brothers have done exactly what bands like Genesis, Dream Theater and Spock's Beard have done in the progressive rock world. This is progressive acoustic music (I hesitate to call it progressive bluegrass), and it has progressed far beyond where anyone has tried to take it before. So if you're up for a challenging listening experience, start at the Punch Bowl and keep going. The epic work may take a few listens, but if you give it a chance, I think you will find it incredibly rewarding.
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