Editors' pick

Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile


Editorial Review

Album review: "Antifogmatic"

Punch Brothers, led by Nickel Creek alumnus Chris Thile, use the instrumentation of a bluegrass band: mandolin, fiddle, banjo, acoustic guitar and upright bass. They can be a terrific traditional string band when they choose to, as evidenced on "Rye Whiskey" from their new album, "Antifogmatic." But mostly they choose not to, instead fashioning a kind of art song for hillbilly instruments. Surprising melodic intervals are married to challenging harmonies and lyrics that resemble collegiate poetry. The results are as puzzling as they are dazzling.

This is a remarkably skillful band that can hold its own against any bluegrass outfit, almost any jazz combo and chamber music group. On its second album as Punch Brothers, the quintet (featuring new bassist Paul Kowert) is as impressive weaving its counterpointed vocal harmonies as it is playing new variations on instrumental motifs. But for all the cerebral delights of the virtuoso picking, precision arrangements and heady metaphors, songs such as "Me and Us" and "Welcome Home" carry little emotional weight. They lack the personal urgency and muscular drive that mark the best hillbilly songs, and until Punch Brothers can incorporate those qualities into their art songs, they will be cheating their own considerable talents.

-- Geoffrey Himes, Nov. 2010