Chris Thile is compiling a laundry list of impressive musical exploits ranging from participation in the bands Nickel Creek and The Punch Brothers to hosting A Prairie Home Companion. A common thread in much of what he tackles in his musical life seems to be progressivism. In his collaborations, Thile’s choices for his mandolin are unexpected and unconventional. When you are a musician of Thile’s caliber, however, unexpected and unconventional make for the most compelling musical offerings. Case in point, his recent collaboration with pianist Brad Mehldau.
Their self titled album is a mix of covers and originals, and it is in the covers – specifically covers of Gillian Welch’s “Scarlet Town,” Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” Joni Mitchell’s “Marcie,” and Elliot Smith’s “Independence Day” – where the two men display their musical genius to the fullest. While Mehldau’s solo work is an interesting mix of classical and jazz influences (think Satie meets Guaraldi), his collaborations embrace the style of the music he is co-creating. In this case, his piano work takes on a decidedly Americana feel in the Bruce Hornsby mold, which creates a warm counterpart to the mandolin. Chris Thile’s vocals are haunting and heartfelt.
Coupled with absolutely incredible mandolin playing including virtuosic solos and sensitive dynamics, the result is a very rare musical offering.