After floating away on a sea of esoterica on 2015’s The Phosphorescent Blues, Punch Brothers return with a less-challenging – and more-engaging – offering for 2018.
The aptly titled All Ashore finds the quintet employing bluegrass instrumentation – Chris Thile’s mandolin, Noam Pikelny’s banjo, Chris Eldridge’s guitar, Gabe Witcher’s fiddle and Paul Kowert’s bass – to sail the musical seas from classical to funky blues to folk to actual bluegrass.
The nine songs float by in a breezy 45 minutes as Thile uses his falsetto to explore late-night self-doubt on the dreamy-to-sleepless “The Angel of Doubt” and examine American politics on the just-below-the-surface anger of “It’s All Part of the Plan.”
While Thile’s mandolin is out front like a guitar in a rock outfit, all the musicians are key players behind their leader. And Kowert, in particular, often comes up with attention-grabbing lines that add unexpected texture to the music.
Two concise instrumentals – the classically inclined “Two Dots and a Dash” and “Jungle Bird,” which is as close to straight ’grass as the Brothers Punch ever get – are placed strategically in the Nos. 3 and 7 slots, respectively, to give the LP an extra shot of cohesion.
All told it’s a welcome return to shore for a band that occasionally can be too clever for its own good.