In early October Punch Brothers released their new EP ‘Ahoy’. I believe this EP points toward an upcoming album that may represent their finest work. This five song sample shows us the new direction of their song material, and while it is not significantly different, shows what the band want to focus on in their future musical ventures. And I have no reason to complain. Each song is different and brilliant in a different and equally incredible way that brings this band even to a higher level of musicianship, style and arrangement because this band can do anything.
The first track, my favorite, is a song called “Brave New World”. Josh Ritter was the original songwriter, but the Punch Brothers are able to make it their own. If you are a Punch Brothers fan who has seen them live, you have heard this song and wondered why it wasn’t on their past albums, but I guess they finally came to their senses. A beautiful arrangement along with the incredible diction and plot of this epic song makes it a perfect song for Chris to sing and for this band to do. The different feels and volumes they can create are masterful along with a very creative and unorthodox Pickles break that will leave you confused, yet amazed. It also adds an extra unknown dimension of the cross picking of Chris Thile along with an ending you will have to hear to believe.
The 2nd track, “ Down Along the Dixie Line,” is a complete change of pace from the last track because it resembles a traditional bluegrass song chord progression. This song shows their instrumental chops, along with their relatively unknown ability to make a great three part harmony with Chris Eldridge and Gabe Witcher singing the parts. This song, the rest of the EP features the guitar expertise of Chris Eldridge, which I always enjoy. This song has his greatest solo where he plays an almost impossible double stop lick that you will want to hear again and again. The song ends with what it is trying to feature: some three part harmony frills that sound like a top notch traditional bluegrass band.
The next song slows it down a bit with a great version of “Moonshiner” that shows the bands abilities in a melodic setting that is harder to make a Punch Brotheresque solo out of, but they get the job done. The head-bobbing pace keeps you in the song while Chris sings the lyrics in a more delicate voice than the last two songs. He also changes his background mandolin to accompany his voice. My favorite part of the song is Chris Eldridge’s beautiful solo that includes bent strings and licks that I need to learn as soon as possible. Since he is in a band that does not feature him like other bands would, some people forget that Chris Eldrdge is possibly the greatest guitar player out there, along with being the most tasteful. And playing in a band with some of the most talented musicians who play some of the most complicated music should only prove that.
The next song is an instrumental called “Squirrel of Possibility” which is one of my favorite instrumentals they have ever written. The old time, fiddle and banjo feel gives it something that Punch Brothers have lacked, which is leaning too far out of bluegrass on their instrumentals and forgetting that a good melody is all that is needed. This song has a great melody along with a clever and almost Them Boys like arrangement to it. And I say that even people who are not fans of instrumentals can enjoy this one.
Up until the last song, while great, the album lacked a lot of energy and it seemed that they were just concentrating on the musicianship and not how it would be enjoyed by people who can’t value musicianship as much as entertainment value. But that all changed when they decided to put the Mclusky song, “Icarus Smicarus” on the album. This punk-like song shows their jazzy and fusion roots and shows us the old Punch Brothers’ material like “Punch Bowl” that plays what seems like the most unbearable notes, but turn into musical gold. This song will rock your socks off!
Since it is only five songs long I can’t say it is my favorite thing Punch Brothers have put out, but they are going in the right direction. If this were the type of material on the next full length album, I would predict that it will be known as the great Punch Brothers Album and possibly one of the classics in a developing genre of modern bluegrass.