Looking at Chris Thile's recent projects, both the 2004 solo album Deceiver and his recent effort with Nickel Creek, 2005's Why Should the Fire Die?, a listener might experience both trepidation and excitement at the release of his new solo album, How to Grow a Woman from the Ground. This guy's got talent to burn, and in a field -- bluegrass and acoustic music -- that's known for its conservatism, he gleans fresh perspectives from breaking the rules. But Deceiver revealed a talent unraveling in so many different directions that the album finally lacked an identifiable center. Musically, How to Grow a Woman from the Ground is much more organic and cohesive than the eclectic sprawl of Deceiver, relying on acoustic instruments and the talents of guitarist Chris Eldridge, bassist Greg Garrison, banjoist Noam Pikelny, and fiddler Gabe Witcher to hold the sound together. The songs and instrumental selections are also quite strong, though Thile remains eclectic, drawing equally from traditional bluegrass, progressive acoustic, and singer/songwriter traditions. There is a great deal of distance between his cover of Jimmie Rodgers' "Brakeman's Blues" and the surreal lyrics of the title cut, but, thanks to the track sequencing, the album flows well. While both the instrumental pieces and Thile's confessionals are enjoyable, How to Grow a Woman from the Ground's highlights arise from fantastic covers of Jack White's "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" and the traditional "If the Sea Was Whiskey." The surreal lyrics of the title track, written by Tom Brosseau, are accompanied by an equally evocative melody, though the subject matter will probably strike progressive-minded listeners as troubling. How to Grow a Woman from the Ground may not qualify as the most enlightened title of the year, but it does reveal the growth of an adventurous talent.
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.