Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Chris Thile's triumphant return

The second day of IMBA showcases was anchored by mandolin wunderkind Chris Thile, who introduced the next act of his bluegrass life with his How to Grow a Band. About a month after announcing that his long-time grouping Nickel Creek would go on an indefinite hiatus at the end of its current tour, Thile's new vehicle has already released its first record on Sugar HIll, How to Grow a Woman From the Ground. And he used the IBMA conference to indtorcudce his new direction to the bluegrass faithful.

How to Grow a Band is an all-star conglomeration of hot young pickers. Besides Thile, widely recognized as the most inventive young mandolinist on the acoustic music scene, the band includes Noam Pikelny (formerly of Leftover Salmon and The John Cowan Band) on banjo; Chris Eldridge (also a member of The Infamous Stringdusters) on guitar; Gabe Witcher (Jerry Douglas Band, The Witcher Brothers) on fiddle, and Greg Garrison (Leftover Salmon, Drew Emmitt Band) on bass.

Besides repeated laments about the fortunes of Thile's beloved Chicago Cubs, the band produce a wide range of styles--acapella, jazz grass, classical gas, fiddle tunes, contemporary bluegrass, and more--during its official showcase and a longer after-hours set. It included original compositions and well-selected covers, including Gillian Welch's "Wayside (Back in Time)" and the album's title song by Tom Brusseau. Overall, Thile appeared loose and liberated to be leading his own band.

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