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Published: 2006/09/19
by Matt Brockett

How To Grow a Woman From the Ground – Chris Thile

Sugar Hill Records

With How to Grow a Woman From the Ground, mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile has
returned to his bluegrass roots for some good old fashioned healing through
music. The heartache in Thile's voice on songs like "Stay Away" and "You're
an Angel, and I'm Gonna Cry" is all too genuine considering his recent life
happenings. Nothing can quite heal a musician like going back to where he
began. Thile and
his old friend, fiddler Gabe Witcher, assembled a traditional string
band with a talented group of players including Chris Eldridge on
guitar, Greg Garrison on bass and Noam Pikelny on banjo. With the masterful
songwriting and stunning musicianship of their debut, this lineup shows
promise that they may be around for many albums to come.

How to Grow a Woman From the Ground follows the path of many classic
bluegrass records and offers a few traditionals, a few originals, and an
interesting contemporary cover or two. In the realm of interesting covers
Thile puts his mark on the White Stripes' pounding "Dead Leaves and the
Dirty Ground" by turning a modern rock powerhouse of a tune into a high and
lonesome bluegrass ripper. The band's cover of The Strokes' "Heart in a
Cage" reinvents the song so beautifully that they successfully make the
original sound like a bad cover, the highest praise possible for any cover

On the title track, a cover of
indie-folkster Tom Brosseau's original, the band passes a classic test of
bluegrass authenticity: telling a dark heart-breaking story while putting a
smile on the audience's collective face. It's hard to tell from the somewhat cryptic
lyrics, but the song appears to be an emotional metaphor of depression and
suicide. Musically it's full of heartache, yet it never loses that upbeat
hope-filled soul typical of so much classic bluegrass.

Complex and high-spirited music is a staple
throughout, with tunes like the opening "Watch 'at
Breakdown," the soulful yodeling of "Brakeman's Blues" and the album closing
"The Eleventh Reel." On instrumentals like "The Beekeeper" with perfectly
composed highs and lows, combined with Thile's lightning-fast fluttering up
and down on the frets of his mandolin, it is impossible to deny the immense
talent in this band. There are bands that play together for years never to
realize the type of deep musical connection that Thile and company have so
obviously demonstrated on only their first studio effort. With the recent
news of Nickel Creek's indefinite hiatus the young and already accomplished
Thile has endless options for where to take his music career from here. For
right now he's decided to take it all back to where he began, to bluegrass
music, and he does it in a way that both pays respect to the traditions and
still constantly pushes the boundaries, a concept that is truly at the heart
and soul of bluegrass.

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