Stealing Second (Chris Thile)

Chris Thile
Stealing Second
Sugar Hill SHCD-3863

On occasion, the entertainment industry goes all abuzz with news of some new teenage phenom who has exploded on the scene with skill and talent far beyond their years, the best example recently probably being Lee Ann Rimes. Bluegrass music, though, has always provided a place for the younger generation. Over the years, we’ve been blessed with young players, from the likes of Sonny Osborne and JD Crowe who, while still in their teens, played with Jimmy Martin, to Mark O'Conner, to David Parmley, and to Alison Krauss. Talent and ability are the great equalizers of bluegrass, not age. So, at the age of 16, mandolin player Chris Thile establishes himself as a big-league picker. His age really isn't even a curiosity any more.

Most striking about Stealing Second, Thile’s second recording, is the quality of the music. You might expect that just about anyone could put out a credible effort by recording with the best musicians in the business – All-Star names like Stuart Duncan, Sam Bush, David Grier, Jerry Douglas and others – and Stealing Secondcertainly features a whole lot of top-notch picking from Thile and the rest of the team. But Thile is no late-inning replacement – he’s front and center, playing a duet with Jerry Douglas on Golden Pond, part of a straight-ahead bluegrass band on Clear The Tracks, even playing solo bououki on Ryno’s LamentStealing Second holds fourteen catchy, mature and sophisticated instrumental tunes, all written by Thile. This isn't a show-off collection of a bunch of too-common, overly-familiar tunes. It's a serious and impressive display of first-rate musical ability.

Thile covers all the bases – the title cut is a full-out bluegrass barnburner, A Night In Mos Eisley (it’s from Star Wars – where the cantina was located) is Dawg-style jazz, Kneel Before Him a Baroque-sounding hymn. There’s something for virtually every mandolin fan or player.

Produced by Sam Bush and recorded at Trace Sound in Nashville, Stealing Second is a top-notch recording from beginning to end. Thile's mandolin playing is clean, crisp and expressive, and the tunes are diverse in feel and sound. Chris Thile has hit a home run with Stealing Second, and takes a well-deserved place among the top mandolin players in bluegrass music.

Sugar Hill Records, Inc., PO Box 55300, Durham, NC 27717-5300
Published in Bluegrass Unlimited, November 1997.. Used with permission.