Punch Brothers

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

Give most rising young composers a shot at Carnegie Hall, and what you’ll usually get in return is a tidy overture, concerto or chamber piece. But Chris Thile, as the saying goes, isn’t most composers: Tapped by John Adams for his multifarious In Your Ear Too festival last year, the versatile mandolinist and singer created The Blind Leading the Blind, a four-part, 40-minute song cycle for his band, then called the Tensions Mountain Boys. That work now forms the centerpiece of Punch, the renamed group’s debut for the eclectic Nonesuch imprint.

Thile is best known for playing in the convention-defying bluegrass trio Nickel Creek, and that combo’s exuberance and effortless virtuosity are echoed on Punch. Thile’s bandmates—guitarist Chris Eldridge, bassist Greg Garrison, banjo player Noam Pikelny and fiddler Gabe Witcher—share their leader’s combination of fluent chops and wide-ranging interests.

The tony provenance of The Blind Leading the Blind, in which Thile contemplates the aftermath of a failed relationship, comes through in its structure: Instrumental counterpoint is handled with the intricacy and finesse of a string quartet. Some of the music has the cinematic sweep of labelmate Pat Metheny’s prog-jazz epics, and Thile leaves plenty of room for his players to stretch. But his plaintive voice and confessional lyrics cut straight to the heart, both in Blind and in four additional songs.

—Steve Smith

Punch Brothers play the Allen Room at Frederick P. Rose Hall Wed 20.

Punch (Nonesuch)