Recorded over four days at Jack White‘s Third Man studios in Nashville, Sleep with One Eye Open may surprise some fans of Nickel Creek/Punch Brothers vocalist/mandolin phenom Chris Thile. While his technical acumen remains uncontested, the addition of blistering bluegrass singer/guitarist Michael Daves and notorious engineering luddite White into the mix has helped to temper Thile‘s signature refinements into something raw and primal. Daves, a staunch, Brooklyn-based, bluegrass traditionalist who plays as if the slightest distraction would send his guitar flying off into the night sky, brings out the same zeal in Thile, and when the two of them lockstep, as they do on stand-out cuts like “Loneliness and Desperation” and the fiery title track, it makes the listener believe that bluegrass is just as capable of being turned up to 11 as its cocky, younger, rock & roll brother. The bare-bones production and one-take feverishness helps Sleep with One Eye Open feel like a late-night, bourbon-fueled club set, and while the duo sticks with standards like “20/20 Vision” and “You’re Running Wild,” there’s little doubt that Jimmy Martin and Ira and Charlie Louvin would be taken aback by the ferocity with which each song is performed. Instrumentals like the Irish-tinged “Billy in the Lowground,” “Tennessee Blues,” the languid “Ookpik Waltz,” and “Mississippi Waltz” fare just as well, proving once again that the classics don’t have to be reinterpreted to connect with younger audiences, they just have to be played with the dizzying fire of youth.
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