Album Review: The Punch Brothers – “Who’s Feeling Young Now?”

The Punch Brothers have been around for a while and it may seem odd to have them on an emerging artists blog, but in terms of genre their alternative bluegrass is very much in our wheelhouse.  The album sounds a lot like Chris Thile (of Nickel Creek fame) and some of the more experimental tunes he’s written over the years.  While they are bluegrass, they might deserve the moniker progressive bluegrass to really describe the sound.  There’s very little nod to Bill Munroe here.

The strength of the album is that it is so unique.  There’s not much out there like it.  The mix of traditional instruments with unconventional progressions and, ultimately, creative melodies makes for an evolving experiment of music.  However, that also makes the distinctive sounds less sing-song, and more sit back.  They even, at times, have a jazz vibe to them.

“Who’s Feeling Young Now,” the title track, has an aggressive base to it.  The harmonies are tight and the melody remains unpredictable throughout.  It’s not your grandfather’s bluegrass, for sure.  The guitars, mandolin, and banjos are used in particularly unique ways, providing for a “busy” but intriguing sound.  It’s probably not the kind of music one would want for relaxing or studying.

“Flippen” begins with a relatively traditional picking line that sounds like it might take on a Celtic flavor (as some classic bluegrass does), but it continues to meander in a more modern even rock sound.  When the full band comes in to fill out the mandolin picking, the song feels very comfortable and full, showing that the unconventional arrangements are not always inhibitors to a good song.

“Patchwork Girlfriend” is not only a hilarious song title, it’s a bit of a patchwork song, too.  It has elements of 1930s piano music, roots country, and a spooky backdrop befitting a horror flick (at times).  It all meshes for a sort of Frankenstein meets Broadway feel.  “Guess I need a little love from each little square of my sweet little patchwork girlfriend.”  That quaint lyric is just a small part of a complicated and thought-provoking song.

One thing for certain is that these gentlemen are remarkable musicians.  It seems they could, if they wanted, be superb traditional bluegrass artists.  Instead, they’ve chosen to pursue a unique progressive sound.  They fall more into line with Chris Thile or even the critically-acclaimed Bela Fleck.  They deserve to be in that category, indeed.

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