Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Thile & Daves - Sleep with One Eye Open

By Jon Stone | @jwstone -  May 12, 2011 

grass|roots ep. 9

When I first started writing the grass|roots column last year, it was with the admission of my limited knowledge in the "genre" and that part of my interest in writing about the genre is the way that one great discovery leads to the next. Though I have learned a lot since then about the tradition (I’ve even begun research for a dissertation that focuses on the rhetoric of traditional American music), this principle remains true. Case in point: A few nights ago, I saw Tony Rice Unit perform. I went, of course, for the opportunity to hear the legendary Mr. Rice play – which was amazing – but I left having witnessed the genius of Rob Ickes’s dobro playing and the charm of Josh Williams who's know for both his work on both guitar and mandolin. Now I have two new artists to get acquainted with.

Chris Thile’s collaboration with Michael Daves on the pair’s new record Sleep with One Eye Open offers the same opportunity. I’m a long-time fan of Thile’s (as you likely know), but Daves is a newcomer both to me and to the bluegrass community at-large. But this is Daves record – it’s his high-and-lonesome voice that props this thing up. Thile is Thile which is to say, he’s fantastic both vocally and mando-ly, but his ego seems checked on Sleep. He gives us plenty of room to get to know Daves a move that seems almost gallant considering the hubris of what it must mean to be Chris Thile. Bravo, Chris.

The record, a collection of bluegrass standards the likes of “20/20 Vision” and “Cry, Cry Darling,” is both a serious and playful update on what Mando Lines over at No Depression calls “your grandfather’s bluegrass” (great review, by the way, Lines). This sums up Sleep, quite well, really. It does its best to be both old and new. We get the old alongside a succinct lesson in traditional music and in Daves high tenor.  The new sneaks its way through in the progressive take on the instrumentation that Thile and Daves so deftly employ.

All in all, this is a great record to start your summer with. It has Dukes-of-Hazard dirt-road chasers to get your blood going (“My Little Girl in Tennessee”) as well as lemonade-sipping instrumentals to enjoy as you porch sit and watch the sunset (“Ookpik Waltz”).  Sleep with One Eye Open is out this week from Nonesuch and, because these dudes mean business, was recorded to tape in Jack White's Third Man Studios in Nashville.

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