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Punch Brothers

One of the most ambitious string bands to emerge in the early 21st century, Punch Brothers built their sound on a platform of virtuosic instrumentalism and dazzling arrangements. Formed in the late 2000s after the dissolution of mandolinist Chris Thile's former band, Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers' amalgam of bluegrass energy, classical complexity, and jazzy improvisation was immediately apparent. Staples of the Nonesuch label, all but one of the band's albums have topped the Billboard Bluegrass charts while also making strong crossover showings on the pop, rock, and folk charts. A roots music supergroup, Punch Brothers made their live debut at Carnegie Hall and were the subject of the 2011 documentary, How to Grow a Band. Their fifth album, 2018's All Ashore, won the Grammy Award for Best Folk Album and they followed it in early 2022 with the tribute set Hell on Church Street. In 2006, with Nickel Creek about to head into a prolonged hiatus, Chris Thile assembled an all-star ensemble to help record his solo album, How to Grow a Woman from the Ground. Among the players involved were guitarist Chris Eldridge (the Infamous Stringdusters), bassist Greg Garrison (Ron Miles, Leftover Salmon), banjo player Noam Pikelny, (John Cowan, Tony Trischka, Leftover Salmon), and violinist Gabe Witcher (Jerry Douglas). Out of this project grew a new collaborative band which settled on the name Punch Brothers, taken from the Mark Twain short story Punch, Brothers, Punch!. After debuting Thile's ambitious four-part suite "The Blind Leaving the Blind" at Carnegie Hall, the group signed with Nonesuch and released their debut album, Punch, in 2008. Later that year, Garrison left the group and was replaced by bassist Paul Kowert. Leaning into their progressive tendencies, Punch Brothers hired acclaimed L.A. pop producer Jon Brion (Fiona Apple, Aimee Mann) to helm their follow-up, 2010's eclectic, Antifogmatic. How to Grow a Band, a feature documentary by filmmaker Mark Meatto, premiered in 2011 and the following year, the group worked with another rock producer, Jacquire King (Kings of Leon), on their third album, Who's Feeling You Now?, along with the EP Ahoy!. They also did some film work, contributing the song "Dark Days" to the blockbuster science fiction film The Hunger Games and appearing on the T-Bone Burnett-produced soundtrack to the Coen Brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis. Finding a complementary collaborator in Burnett, they hired him to helm their acclaimed fourth album, The Phosphorescent Blues, which appeared in 2015. Between 2016 and 2019, Thile took over hosting duties of the long-tenured NPR radio program A Prairie Home Companion which later changed its name to Live From Here. Alongside Thile, members of the Punch Brothers served as the house band, playing during skits and backing up guest musicians. During this busy period, the group found time to self-produce their fifth album, All Ashore, which earned them their first Grammy Award -- they have been nominated several times -- for Best Folk Album. They returned at the beginning of 2022 with a full album cover of bluegrass icon Tony Rice's 1983 album Church Street Blues. The Punch Brothers' version, titled Hell on Church Street, served as a tribute to the influential Rice, who passed away at the end of 2020. Ironically, Rice's original album was also a set of covers paying tribute to his own heroes.
© Timothy Monger /TiVo


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