Chris Thile’s Not All Who Wander Are Lost

UnknownChris Thile’s music is intricate and full of ideas. He is clearly very creative with melody and has been fortunate to surround himself with great players (whoever they are). Unfortunately, this advance copy of Wander, due to be released this month, does not have any information on song credits, supporting players, or those other little detail that we reviewers like to slip into our writing.

This instrumental album is enjoyable, varied in pace, and chocked full of gems. Thile contributed two of the best numbers on Nickel Creek’s self-titled debut, “Ode to a Butterfly” and “In the House of Tom Bombadil”. This solo effort, a side project, shows that these are not flukes — this kid has a way with instrumental tunes and arrangement. I was a bit surprised that the album is entirely instrumental, as Thile does the vocal honors for Nickel Creek on occasion. During his performance last summer at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, a friend commented that he definitely fancies himself as a ballad singer, and I suspect his singing, which is fine, will mature to match his instrumentals, which are superlative. Perhaps he’s saving himself for the band.

The opening tune, “Song for a Young Queen,” is one of the best on the album, and sets the tone for some great follow-ups. This is not a simple set of instrumentals — they are quite complex, driven by Thile’s lightning fast way with the mandolin, and a good sense for complimentary accompaniment. I can’t imagine how he does it on “Wolfcreek Pass,” which flies so fast that you have to listen to it several times to get everything that’s going on. I suspect that fellow Nickel Creek players played fiddle and guitar on several pieces, but the other collaborators remain a mystery. Another wonderful track is “Riddles in the Dark” which gets its shadowy tinge from the conversation between the banjo and mandolin — it’s got that sense of humour and fun, that mark the best instrumental pieces, all played out through some incredible picking that owes as much to jazz as it does to any back porch legend. “Sinai to Canaan” is sensitive and subdued, creating a nice breathing space amid the quicker numbers. I also particularly like “Eureka” which has that rollicking bluegrass feel that lures so many people to festivals and the aisles of music shops. This one is a cut above, folks, from a fine young player that has all the stuff it takes to become one of the greats as he matures.

(Sugar Hill Records, 2001)

About Kim Bates

Kim Bates, former Music Review Editor, grew up in and around St. Paul/Minneapolis and developed a taste for folk music through housemates who played their music and took her to lots of shows, as well as KFAI community radio, Boiled in Lead shows in the 1980s, and the incredible folks at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, which she’s been lucky to experience for the past 10 years. Now she lives in Toronto, another city with a great and very accessible music and arts scene, where she teaches at the University of Toronto. She likes to travel to beautiful nature to do wilderness camping, but she lives in a city and rides the subway to work. Some people might say that she gets distracted by navel gazing under the guise of spirituality, but she keeps telling herself it’s Her Path. She’s deeply moved by environmental issues, and somehow thinks we have to reinterpret our past in order to move forward and survive as cultures, maybe even as a species.

Her passion for British Isles-derived folk music, from both sides of the Atlantic, seems to come from this sense about carrying the past forward. She tends to like music that mixes traditional musical themes with contemporary sensibilities — like Shooglenifty or Kila — or that energizes traditional tunes with today’s political or personal issues — like the Oysterband, Solas, or even Great Big Sea. She can’t tolerate heat and humidity, but somehow she finds herself a big fan of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys (Louisana), Regis Gisavo (Madagascar), and various African and Caribbean artists — always hoping that tour schedules include the Great White North.