Chris Thile 2006
Cut to the present, as Thile, a veteran at twenty-five, shows up in New York, newly divorced. He joins a group of other young acoustic players and begins to play tunes like Jimmie Rodgers's "Brakeman's Blues" from 1928, a country standard. Pain, as it will, seems to have done him good as a songwriter, and the repertoire of his new How to Grow a Band includes Thile originals like the simple country lament "You're an Angel, and I'm Gonna Cry" and the stark, minimal "I'm Yours If You Want Me." To hear Thile tell it, his new album, How to Grow a Woman from the Ground, is his return to bluegrass, and indeed it does contain a few numbers that would fit in among the pines at the Milan Bluegrass Festival.
But musically Thile still resides in progressive-bluegrass California, and in Thile's bluegrass world a line like "You are the devil; stay away from me" can be delivered in a dreamy, meditative tone. How to Grow a Woman includes covers of the White Stripes ("Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground") and the Strokes ("Heart in a Cage," with profanity intact), along with Gillian Welch's lyrically artful "Wayside (Back in Time)." In short, Thile's new music gets back to his roots while incorporating a lot of the new tricks he's learned along the way.
The Ark may be a bit too small for Thile and the How to Grow a Band when they come to town on Friday, October 27, but the club is a perfect place to appreciate his low-decibel talents.