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Punch Brothers

Hell on Church Street

Hell on Church Street

UPC: 075597912494

Format: LP

Regular price $17.95
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Punch Brothers' fifth album, All Ashore, was a typically eclectic, if somewhat intimate album that examined the complexities of maintaining relationships amid the social chaos of the late 2010s. Ambitious almost to a fault, the quintet has made a career out of creating complex song suites, taking stylistic left-turns, and arranging their music with a virtuosic fervor that leaves little doubt about their collective talent. Released in an entirely new era of tumult, 2022's Hell on Church Street marks something of a return-to-roots for the band, albeit in their own peculiar fashion. Singer/mandolinist Chris Thile has always insisted that Punch Brothers are, at their core, a bluegrass outfit and on their sixth album, they honor one of their greatest influences, the late bluegrass guitar legend Tony Rice. Billed as a "reimagining, and homage to" Rice's 1983 solo album, Church Street Blues, Hell on Church Street is a song-for-song tribute, played with elegant restraint and some creative interpretation. That Rice's album was itself a set of covers from such well-known artists as Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, and Bill Monroe makes the Punch Brothers' version a sort of twice-distilled tribute to the original material.
Consisting almost entirely of just voice and guitar, Rice's album paired a sense of breezy warmth with the impeccable precision that was one of his hallmarks. In tackling the Norman Blake-penned title track, Punch Brothers magnify the dreamier aspects of Rice's arrangement, spinning it off into a tender bluegrass fantasia. Likewise, their loose and fluttering take on Ralph McTell's classic "Streets of London" is appealingly subtle, as is their quietly percussive version of Tom Paxton's "Last Thing on My Mind." They allow themselves to break loose occasionally, especially on the Jimmie Rodgers romp "Any Old Time" and parts of the haunting traditional ballad "House Carpenter," but precision and restraint remain both Punch Brothers' superpower and Achilles' heel. The set closes with Gordon Lightfoot's epic maritime ballad, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," which, try as they might, they just can't land. It's a tough song for anyone but its author to sing convincingly, and as is often the case, Thile's voice is just too clean to do it much justice. As far as Punch Brothers albums go, Hell on Church Street is a bit of an odd bird in that it's an album of covers chosen by someone else. As a nod to Rice, however, they honor his spirit well enough. ~ Timothy Monger


1 - Church Street Blues
2 - Cattle in the Cane
3 - Streets of London
4 - One More Night
5 - Gold Rush
6 - Any Old Time
7 - Orphan Annie
8 - House Carpenter/Jerusalem Ridge
9 - Last Thing on My Mind
10 - Pride of Man
11 - Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald