Punch Brothers reinvent the late Tony Rice with complexity and beauty.
It’s been 3 long years since Punch Brothers released a record, and longer still since their 2015 pièce de résistance The Phosphorescent Blues, an arrestingly creative take on experimental bluegrass and a personal favourite of mine. Led by Chris Thile, as effervescent a player as ever, the group now set their sights on a covers album of sorts.
Billed as a “group re-imagining” of Tony Rice’s nearly-solo Church Street Blues (an album on which I did some homework and enjoyed), Hell On Church Street will seem to do what it says on the tin. This (sort-of) title track is a more complex, expansive and acrobatic take than the original; a double-time switch-up in the second verse and irregular accents throughout make the boys’ interpretation a repeatedly engaging listen. The songwriting simplicity of Rice is still somewhat preserved, but the forlorn beauty of the 5-piece instrumental (the airy, tireless banjo is my favourite addition) grants the tune new life by imbuing it with a pathos absent in 1983’s version.
In this sense, the band’s spin on things walks the perfect line of reinvention; a love letter, yet fresh and great in its own right. It’s a wonderful way to pay tribute to Rice’s unfortunate passing in only December of 2020, superfan Thile no doubt the right man to helm such a paeanistic project. He and his bandmates’ take on ‘Church Street Blues’ is incredibly promising, as they pen a gorgeous and tender re-working of the formidable original tune. As album teasers go, this one is stunning.
‘Church Street Blues’ is out now via Nonesuch Records. Watch the video below: