In the past eight years, mandolinist Christ Thile has cranked out three solo albums and two records with his band, Nickel Creek. (Yes, there was one before their Sugar Hill debut.) He's jammed with everyone from Dolly Parton to Hootie & the Blowfish, and he's landed a handful of music videos on CMT. Not bad for a 20-year-old. And this much is certain: the boy can play. The International Bluegrass Music Association recently recognized that by naming him Mandolin Player of the Year; Nickel Creek also took home top honors for Instrumental Group of the Year.
Thile's influences range from bluegrass to jazz, Celtic to classical, and he is in command of them all. But Not All Who Wander Are Lost, his self-produced collection of twelve original instrumentals, is really an ensemble effort. The guest list is long, and their work is woven into one seamless fabric. Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck, Byron House and Stuart Duncan are among those on hand to support Thile's considerable talents. Their fluid playing on the album's two-part, eleven-minute centerpiece, "Sinai To Canaan", is truly something to behold.
That such a young man can play so remarkably well is impressive, to be sure. But the real phenomenon here is that he dreams up this music in the first place. Thile has suggested that this album could be viewed as the end of the first stage of his musical development. Here's hoping stage two will take acoustic music even deeper into uncharted territory.