Chris Thile & Michael Daves: Sleep with One Eye Open (CD Review)

Chris Thile & Michael Daves

Sleep with One Eye Open

Nonesuch CD

Chris Thile is best known for his work as vocalist and virtuoso mandolinist with the bands Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek. And while his fancy finger work frequently dazzles, he’s been criticized in the past for allowing the production values imposed on his music to have to glitzy a sheen: blunting the “authentic-sounding” quality that connoisseurs often prize in traditional music-making. But his recently collaboration with guitarist and vocalist Michael Daves restores a sense of folksiness, grit, and yes, authenticity to the proceedings.Daves is a wonderful foil for Thile. His stomping grounds are in Brooklyn, but his sound is a spot-on reanimation of old-time Nashville. Ironically, the recording takes place in that very city, in a new studio with vintage equipment – Jack White’s Third Man studios.

The concept for the album is beautifully simple. Thiles and Daves went into Third Man and, in four days, recorded all sixteen of the album’s cuts: traditional songs and material by beloved Bluegrass icons such as Flatt and Scruggs. Just two guys standing toe to toe, playing with youthful energy and nimble virtuosity and singing their hearts out.  No backing band, no overdubs: none necessary.

In an era of glitzy presentation and overproduction, of far too many cooks spoiling an often thinly appointed stew, Sleep with One Eye Open is an object lesson on how to do it right. Recommended.

RIP Charlie Louvin (1927-2011)

We were saddened to learn today of country singer Charlie Louvin’s passing. One of the signature voices of the Grand Ole Opry, he was perhaps best known for his work as part of a duo with his brother Ira, billed as the Louvin Brothers. Their repertoire spanned the gamut from gospel to bluegrass to traditional country music.

After Ira’s death in 1965, Charlie continued to perform and record as a solo artist. During the 2000s, he experienced something of a late career recording renaissance, releasing several CDs for the Tompkins Square imprint.

Here’s the 2007 video for “Ira,” a late song he dedicated to his brother.