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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
+ Svalastog - Woodwork
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+ Múm - Peel Session
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+ Camille - Le Fil
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+ The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
+ Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
+ Various Artists - Musics In The Margin
+ Rafael Toral - Space
+ Bob Dylan - Modern Times
+ Excepter - Alternation
+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
+ M Ward - Post-War
+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
+ Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass Is Always Greener
+ Robin Guthrie - Continental
+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
+ Oakley Hall - Second Guessing
+ Klee - Honeysuckle
+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
+ Awesome Color - Awesome Color
+ Jenny Wilson - Love And Youth
+ Asobi Seksu - Citrus
+ Marsen Jules - Les Fleurs
+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
+ Alejandro Escovedo - The Boxing Mirror
+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
+ Loscil - Plume
+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
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+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
+ Supersilent - 7
+ Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time
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Chris Thile
How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
Sugar Hill

I owe a lot of where I am today to Grant Gordy. When I came back to Fort Collins after four years on Long Island, all I had was a degree in Naval Architecture and little direction. Like many listless dreamers before me, I'd entertained the notion of starting a band.

Q: Where does one begin such a quest?

A: Music shops — magical places functioning much like a bug-zapper for would-be band-leaders. They're places brimming with both actual talent and people who merely think they have it. The now long-gone Northern Rose became my port-of-call, and that's where I first made Mr. Gordy's acquaintance. He introduced me to a whole world of musical ideas, demonstrating connections I never knew existed. Bluegrass. Jazz. Gypsy. New Acoustic. I was blown away by the possibilities. One particular record he shared with me was Chris Thile's Not All Who Wander Are Lost.

What a record that was (and is, for that matter). It masterfully combined musicianship and arrangements (both forward-thinking and backward-looking) into something beautifully combustible.

Now, here we are, three years later. Everything comes full circle. Oddly enough, two weeks ago, my band opened for Nickel Creek, the band for which Chris Thile is perhaps most famous. Backstage, Grant and Chris spoke at length about the future of music and how it would involve the smashing together of different genres. Considering Thile's statements about music's direction, How to Grow a Woman From the Ground is a strange listen since, in a lot of ways, this album is an exercise in tradition.

I missed the point at first. As much as I harp on people to just sit back and enjoy the music, I didn't. I listened with a critical ear and thought "I expected more from Chris." Then it hit me. Who am I to say that?

I don't think there's a single artist out there who's purposely putting out something inferior (unless inferiority is part of the aesthetic). The point is, everyone gives it their best shot each time they make an album. How to Grow a Woman From the Ground is no different in that respect — you just have to dig a little deeper to find the intent. It may not have the surface-level, virtuosic flourishes we've come to expect, but it does have something else.

When it comes to making records, the sound of a live band is all too often lost in translation. Reactive, fluid playing becomes much more difficult in a recorded medium. The nuance of imperceptible timing is lost. Vision and feeling are key to a group's functionality.

There's no good way to get around this with most bands. How to Grow a Woman From the Ground accomplishes this feat by opting for two mics and a room full of musicians. The result is a sound akin to the olden days of bluegrass.

To attempt a live, two-mic recording, you'd better have a top-notch band, since there's really no chance for overdubbing. Luckily, the How to Grow a Band has talent up the wazoo. As a unit, they are unbelievably tight: Thile on mandolin, Noam Pikelny (banjo), Gabe Witcher (fiddle), Chris Eldridge (guitar), and Greg Garrison (bass). All are masters of their respective instruments. It's such a cohesive group that no one ever really exerts complete dominance — focus is always subtly shifting like lapping waves on a secluded shoreline. Yes, these are indeed reactive players.

As far as the material goes, it's a grab-bag of instrumentals, bluegrass-ified covers, and originals. The White Stripes' "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" and The Strokes' "Heart in a Cage" stand beside Jimmie Rodgers' "Brakeman's Blues" and don't sound out of place. In fact, "Heart in a Cage" easily trumps the original and is one of the high points of the album.

Musicianship is constantly at the forefront. Take a song like "The Beekeeper." Beautifully constructed and performed, it even utilizes a bit of musical onomatopoeia, actually sounding like a swarming, buzzing mass of bees at one point. (It reminds me of the feeling evoked towards the middle of the first movement of Gorecki's 2nd Symphony.)

Another particularly notable fact about this recording is the use of varied dynamics. The band exhibits amazing control, able to take it from full-out to barely-there in an instant. With little to no compression on the recording, these vast swings go a long way in amplifying the emotional intensity. Instead of the flat production value permeating so much music today, there are peaks and valleys. The variations only heighten the sense that these are real, live musicians. It's a record devoid of produced sheen, and that's a good thing.

Perhaps my favorite moment on the album, and one that made Grant and me laugh aloud when we first heard it, comes during "Brakeman's Blues." Towards the end, it features an uncharacteristically thrashing chord solo from Thile. He smashes through his mandolin right up until the solo's denouement, when he easily defuses it with a flashy, intricate lick.

How to Grow a Woman From the Ground is the sound of musicians having a great deal of fun — it only took a friend's laughter for me to realize that. Yes, Grant Gordy has taught me a lot about music. How it's imbued with humor and joy. How sometimes simplicity is the better route. How genre is meaningless. And how there are many ways to define quality. I'd like to thank him for that. I'd also like to thank him for not letting me become a Naval Architect.

by Sam Ernst

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