Album Review: The Punch Brothers - "All Ashore"

Americana stalwarts deliver a 'concept album' that blends many of Americana's best sounds into a sonic stew worth every delicious bite.

Chris Thile, mandolinist and lead singer of Punch Brothers has termed the group’s All Ashore to be “a meditation on committed relationships in the present day.” It’s generally a soft, thoughtful nine-song set, and the album’s wide variety suggests Thile’s stylistic skills know no boundaries.

Thile is a busy man, as he’s found time to fit this studio recording into a busy schedule, which also includes his role as radio host of Live from Here, the show that replaced and renamed A Prairie Home Companion. Thile first came to fame as a member of Nickel Creek, which helped rejuvenate bluegrass music due to its members’ youthful enthusiasm for the genre.

If you’re expecting a Thile return to his bluegrass roots with All Ashore, well, to quote Judas Priest, “You’ve got another thing coming.” Be not alarmed, though, because that other ‘thing,’ is also a beautiful prize. “The Gardener,” for instance, is a pretty, gentle ballad that finds Gabe Witcher’s beatific fiddle playing off Thile’s lovely mandolin picking. It may not be the way Bill Monroe done it, but he’d more than likely call it a pretty little thing. Nevertheless, for those that thrill at the sound of speedy bluegrass picking, “Jungle Bird,” while also a little off-kilter, includes plenty of skilled instrumentation. In contrast, “It’s All Part of the Plan” is a wordy, folk-y number with a clear focus on songwriting.

Although Thile calls All Ashore a kind of themed album, you don’t need to know its umbrella theme to also enjoy it. It’s the band’s first self-produced album, and it’s just as beautiful as it is smart. Feel free to get all aboard All Ashore.