Punch Brothers – Hell on Church Street (2022) [FLAC 24bit/96kHz]

Punch Brothers – Hell on Church Street (2022)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 43:25 minutes | 889 MB | Genre: Country, Folk, Bluegrass
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © Nonesuch

Hell on Church Street, Punch Brothers’ newest album, is the band’s reimagining of, and homage to, the late bluegrass great Tony Rice’s landmark solo album Church Street Blues. The record features a collection of songs by Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Bill Monroe, and others. Recorded at Nashville’s Blackbird Studio in November 2020, during a time of great uncertainty, Hell on Church Street was intended as both its own work of art and a gift to Rice, who died that Christmas. Punch Brothers said of Tony Rice and Church Street Blues: “No record (or musician) has had a greater impact on us, and we felt compelled to cover it in its entirety, with the objective of interacting with it in the same spirit of respect-fueled adventure that Tony brought to each of its pre-existing songs.”

A cover album of a cover album sounds pretty niche, but when you’re talking about one of the liveliest and best respected modern folk and progressive bluegrass groups covering one of the most classic bluegrass albums of the past 40 years, the novelty is irresistible. To be crystal clear: Punch Brothers have created a loving tribute to Tony Rice’s Church Street Blues. (The band first performed the songs live at the 2019 Rockygrass festival, a set which has become legendary among fans online.) A remarkably catholic collection of bluegrass, pop, bebop jazz, country, folk and gospel interpretations, Rice’s album is now considered a near-perfect time capsule. Punch Brothers vocalist and mandolinist Chris Thile has recalled Alison Krauss once sitting him down, putting on Church Street Blues, and saying, “This is how you make a record.” But where Rice went simple and clean, Punch Brothers take some breath-taking and delightful risks that really pay off. Banjo player Noam Pikelny accurately describes Rice’s version of the Norman Blake title track as thus: “What he’s playing is so complicated, but it doesn’t feel that way, it feels elemental … like falling off a log.” But Punch Brothers’ cover, played in 5/4 time, swells with fuller instrumentation—its quick-pick banjo and mandolin contrasted with romantic, sweetly bowing fiddle. Bob Dylan’s “One More Night” shines bright, the notes practically leaping in mid-air. And Jimmie Rodgers’ “Any Old Time” is a true delight, reimagined as a playful Lovin’ Spoonful-esque lark. Whereas Rice played UK folkie Ralph McTell’s sentimental “Streets of London” as a ’70s singer-songwriter weepie, Thile and co. strip it back even further, to a place that’s moody, spare, jazzy and a little off-kilter. Rice’s jaw-dropping picking on Blake’s “Orphan Annie” here gets a more relaxed interpretation led by Punch Brothers’ Noam Pikelny and bassist Paul Kowert, and buttressed by the group’s golden-warm harmonies. Rice removed the laser-show psychedelia of Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” exposing its simple beauty. But Punch Brothers lay the song further bare, capturing all of its spookiness in that empty space. And a free-improv version of the bluegrass standard “Gold Rush” is not to be missed. Noam Pikelny said he remembers saying to Thile: “We needed to make this album in our lifetime. But wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t make this record in Tony Rice’s lifetime?” Sadly, Rice passed away in 2020, never having heard the band’s gift to him. Somehow, that makes it even more poignant. – Shelly Ridenour

01. Punch Brothers – Church Street Blues (02:33)
02. Punch Brothers – Cattle in the Cane (03:32)
03. Punch Brothers – Streets of London (04:22)
04. Punch Brothers – One More Night (01:49)
05. Punch Brothers – The Gold Rush (02:46)
06. Punch Brothers – Any Old Time (02:58)
07. Punch Brothers – Orphan Annie (05:00)
08. Punch Brothers – House Carpenter / Jerusalem Ridge (07:17)
09. Punch Brothers – Last Thing on My Mind (04:25)
10. Punch Brothers – Pride of Man (03:53)
11. Punch Brothers – Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (04:45)



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