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Punch Brothers in Royal Oak, 5 Things To Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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The Punch Brothers have done quite a bit, and covered quite a bit of ground, during the 10 years since the Americana group's debut album.

Despite its all-star members' myriad other endeavors, the collective out of Brooklyn has five albums and two EPs, six of which have debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Bluegrass chart and in the Top 10 of the Folk chart. The quintet has also stretched itself into musical territory that defies easy categorization, mixing elements of jazz, pop and even hip-hop into its particular brand of American roots.

Last month the Punch Brothers release "All Ashore," producing itself for the first time and delivering nine tracks that are as politically provocative as they are musically potent...

Singer-mandolinist Chris Thile says by phone that "All Ashore" is meant to be "a reflection, a meditation on being alive right now. You have five guys in their 30s who are starting families, which of course complicates everything. It also beautifies everything. Everything becomes so meaningful all the time. That's so scary, so gorgeous, so dire. So that has certainly woven itself through the fabric of the record."

Thile, 37, acknowledges that the current political tenor also made a marked impact on some of "All Ashore's" songs. "These are the craziest times we've experienced in our lives, without a doubt the most intense political turmoil I can remember experiencing. That affects all these endeavors -- the work of being in love, the work of falling in love, staying in love, the work of presenting the world to this little person you've been entrusted with, the work of being a good friend, the work of being a responsible member of society. It's all changed in the last couple of years, and I think that's the kind of stuff that we're all thinking about when we're playing and writing -- and once that second round of cocktails hits the table."

The Punch Brothers' decision to produce itself on "All Ashore" reflects what Thile calls "a shared vision" the group has developed over its 12 years together. "I think we've learned a shared vision of what this thing is gonna sound like, what it's gonna do, what it's gonna attempt to express. From that point it's just a matter of going to work and plucking from our imaginations and smearing it all on analog tape. We've had a million arguments and I'm sure we'll have a million more. They're not life-threatening for this band. The producers we've worked with have given us tools on how to deal with any conflicts that arrive, and we were prepared for the various artistic skirmishes that arose. And this (album) was probably the most collaborative one yet for us."

The song "Angel of Doubt" on "All Ashore" features Thile rapping part of the vocals, and he says that "I've never been more scared of a song in my life than that. But it was fun to do and fun to try and embody the character in that song and deliver it with a certain amount of demonic glee. It was disturbingly easy, actually... (laughs)

During 2016 Thile took over hosting duties for the syndicated radio show "A Prairie Home Companion," whose name has been changed to "Live From Here" after sexual abuse allegations against founder Garrison Keillor. Thile says he's still "certainly excited to be there" with the program but has little to say about the re-branding that's taking place for its upcoming season. "I obviously had nothing to do with asking for a name change or anything. It was basically just a thing that happened, and I'm trying to roll with it. It's so complicated, all that stuff. I know my job hasn't change, which his trying to make as compelling, as interesting and as edifying a two-hour bit of audible art and entertainment as I possibly can, week-in and week-out. And that's what I'm gonna keep doing."

The Punch Brothers perform Friday, Aug. 10, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $35-$55. Call (248) 399-2980 or visit royaloakmusictheatre.com.

Web Site: www.royaloakmusictheatre.com

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