This album's promo materials herald How To Grow a Woman from the Ground as Chris Thile's "return" to his bluegrass roots. Hardcore bluegrass aficionados will beg to differ. While substantially more rootsy than his previous solo outings (except for his premiere release, Stealing First), How To Grow a Woman from the Ground is not by any stretch a bluegrass album. But that doesn't mean it isn't a first-class piece of music making.
I think second-generation "Dawg Music" would be a more accurate musical description of How To Grow a Woman from the Ground. David Grisman pioneered the merging of bluegrass instruments with the improvisational freedom of jazz. Chris Thile pushes this format even further by combining bluegrass with old time music, gospel, and contemporary rock, and treating the new amalgamation as another traditional musical form. Thile's version of the traditional tune "If the Sea Were Whisky" is a good example of this new combination. The first verse begins with four-part acappella gospel harmonies and then morphs into an old time string band arrangement. His original tune "Stay Away" is the kind of tune that populated his last album, Deceiver, but here Thile uses a sparser all-acoustic retro arrangement to frame this thoroughly modern tune.
Thile chose songs from widely divergent sources for How To Grow a Woman from the Ground. Along with six original tunes Thile included compositions by the White Stripe's Jack White as well as tunes by old-time revivalists David Rawlings and Gillian Welsh. Tunes by Milladoiro, Thomas Anderson Brosseau, Jimmie Rodgers, Paul Shelasky, and Julian Casablancas round out the disk. Thile was equally discerning when he chose sideman to accompany him. Chris Eldridge plays guitar, Greg Garrison plays bass, Noam Pikelny plays banjo, Gabe Witcher plays fiddle and Thile handles mandolin and lead vocals. On multi-part harmonies all the players occasionally contribute backing parts some of the time.
The sound on How To Grow a Woman from the Ground has an exceptional level of fidelity and natural ambience. This sonic splendor starts with a pair of vintage Telefunken ELA M 251 E microphones configured in omni-directional pattern used as the primary microphones for the recording. Throughout the recording chain recording engineer Mathew Gephart and mastering engineer Gary Pacsosa went for maximum quality. The final result demonstrates just how good a 44.1kHz/16-bit CD can sound.
The term "superstar" bandied around so much nowadays really only means that someone can generate big sales numbers. But despite the bastardization of the term, Chris Thile most certainly qualifies as a musical superstar, not only due to his well-deserved popularity, but also because of the caliber of his music. Want to hear what the future of acoustic music sounds like? Listen to How To Grow a Woman from the Ground and you'll find out.