Thile takes bluegrass in fresh direction
August 24, 2006
Following are reviews of new CDs by artists who have appeared recently or will appear soon in the valley.Chris Thile”How to Grow a Woman from the Ground”produced by Thile (Sugar Hill)Mandolinist-singer Chris Thile has taken acoustic sounds a long way from traditional bluegrass in his band, Nickel Creek: duet albums with fellow wandering mandolinist, Mike Marshall, and solo projects that range from pop to sophisticated instrumentals. It may be too late for Thile to return to true bluegrass. “How to Grow a Woman From the Ground” is the 25-year-old’s stab at a bluegrass album; it’s an all-acoustic quintet recording with standard instrumentation and production. But Thile’s voice, playing and song-writing remain miles away from Bill Monroe, or even modern-day traditionalists like Del McCoury.This is a great thing. Bands making the traditional sounds are a dime a dozen. Few could put a Celtic spin on the Spanish instrumental “O Santo de Polvora” with such ease, or weave a modern, melancholy ballad like “Stay Away” with such spare instrumentation. Thile proves himself a great interpreter on versions of songs by Gillian Welch, Jimmie Rodgers and even Jack White. The range of moods he explores makes this a super update of bluegrass.Chris Thile performed with Nickel Creek last week in Snowmass Village. “How to Grow a Woman From the Ground” is set for release Sept. 12.
Gov’t Mule”High & Mighty”produced by Warren Haynes and Gordie Johnson (ATO)For most hard-rock bands, a title like “High & Mighty” would be a cocksure boast about the band itself. But Gov’t Mule is the thinking man’s hard rock, and “Mr. High & Mighty,” the opening track to the quartet’s latest CD looks out at the world with a definite point of view.”Mr. High & Mighty” is modern-day, chest-beating, war-making America. Singer-guitarist Warren Haynes points out the shame of a country taking leave from its ideals. America once reached down to the most needful (“Remember when you were low / on the sunny streets of Georgia,” he sings, referencing the Civil Rights movement). Now, the down-and-out can expect America to act as the neighborhood bully: “Buildings crumble and peasants cower / at the sound of your name.” The song ends on a note of optimism; a line like “We can dance and join hands” has probably never been sung to such a heavy sound.”High & Mighty” leaves the politics to that one song, but the theme of opposing forces rings throughout the album. In both the sound, a combination of jam-band looseness and rock intensity, and lyrics, Haynes and company spin their customary blend of pain and promise, the dark and light. It’s no surprise the phrase “so weak, so strong” appears in “Child of the Earth,” and reappears as the title of another tune.Gov’t Mule performs Sunday, Sept. 3, at Belly Up.
Vinyl”Fogshack Music Volume 1″produced by Tony Mindel and the Rondo Brothers (In the Pocket Records)San Francisco sextet Vinyl gets the remix treatment here, courtesy of the Rondo Brothers. The Brothers, a production duo also from the Bay Area, took recordings from Vinyl’s sessions for their 2001 album, “Flea Market,” and had their way with it. Those recordings prominently featured Bernie Worrell, the keyboard wizard from P-Funk, giving the source material an extra dose of the funky stuff.Remixing other people’s music has generally struck me as a curious way to make a living, but on “Fogshack Music,” I see the point. Vinyl’s typical organic sound, poured through the juicer, comes out as something else – beat-heavy, echoing and jittery, with the groove extracted and amplified. It makes Vinyl sound more than a little like Medeski, Martin & Wood, which is rarely a bad thing.Vinyl performs Monday, Aug. 28, at Belly Up.Rose Hill Drive”Rose Hill Drive”(Megaforce/SCI Fidelity)Boulder’s Rose Hill Drive has been around long enough to have made an impression, as a hard-rock throwback that did little to differentiate it from the ’70s groups that inspired them. So it’s a bit shocking that “Rose Hill Drive” is the trio’s first full-length album, which gives the band a chance to prove it has something fresh to add. And they do. Rose Hill Drive, led by singer-guitarist Daniel Sproul, will certainly remind listeners of Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy and maybe a little ZZ Top. But “Declaration of Independence” comes out of nowhere with its Beatles tinge, and makes a convincing statement that, even in their early 20s, the members of Rose Hill Drive are ready to reach beyond their heroes. Even when the band falls back on hard rock, on “Raise Your Hands,” they can do it with distinction.Rose Hill Drive plays a CD Release Party Sunday, Aug. 27, at Belly Up.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org