Published Jan 27, 2015Who starts an album with a ten-minute piece bordering on the rock-operatic, follows it with pop rock ballads and a bluegrass number and throws in a little Debussy for good measure? Punch Brothers do. With The Phosphorescent Blues, they show once again that they are just about the boldest and most versatile acoustic bands around. Guitarist Chris Eldridge, bassist Paul Kowert and fiddler Gabe Witcher deliver flawless performances here. Noam Pikelny's banjo is subtle, peeking out of songs here and there to add flourish, and Chris Thile's vocals are front and centre, making frequent forays into falsetto.
The classical pieces — Debussy's "Passepied" and Scriabin's "Prelude" — are so well done that chamber ensembles might want to seriously consider adding banjo. The original songs are well crafted and exquisitely performed, with some very catchy numbers, like the moody "Julep" and "I Blew It Off," a pop anthem for an over-stimulated era. Then there's "Little Lights," a love song as tender as they come, and "Boll Weevil," a nod to their bluegrass roots. But while the Punch Brothers can clearly play almost any style of music, two tracks on this recording fall slightly short of the mark: "Magnet" and "My Oh My", which show that this very cerebral band can't quite pull off sexy. Still, this is yet another great Punch Brothers album, and for those willing to hold out until February 27, the vinyl release includes four additional new tracks. (Nonesuch)