Chris Thile's second solo presentation -- he would have been 16 years old at the time -- is every bit as impressive as Leading Off, and even more accomplished. In fact, it shows the lad taking significant strides, especially compositionally, resulting in a work of considerable progression for the prodigiously gifted musician. Although technically it is, Stealing Second isn't really a bluegrass album, per se, but something much more exceptional. Rip-snortin' tunes like the title track and "Clear the Tracks" notwithstanding, the album has an overall serene, gossamer beauty. It often feels like a symphony written for traditional bluegrass instruments instead of an orchestra. You cannot listen to the hymn-like purity of "Kneel Before Him" or "Alderaanian Melody" without marveling at the compositional integrity in evidence. Thile manages to make intricately structured and sophisticated melodies sound whimsical and breezy but still complex, wistful, and full of depth. He writes weighty dirges and coquettish ballads, bluesy laments and innocent paeans, and touches on classical, jazz, and, especially, Celtic music in addition to the music's vaguely bluegrass foundation -- and he does it with effortless ease and confidence. If not for a few external clues (songs named after planets in Star Wars, Sherlock Holmes, and Thile's favorite baseball player, Ryne Sandberg), you would be hard-pressed to guess this music emerged from a teenager. And with expert support from the likes of Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Alison Brown, Sam Bush, and David Grier, the playing is as good as it gets, and the teenager's solos are consistently inventive and surprising. In a way, it doesn't do justice to its creator to label Stealing Second the work of a prodigy. By this point, Thile was simply an awesome musician in full possession and control of both his playing and writing gifts. And already he was taking bluegrass down roads it had never previously been.
Stealing Second Review
by Stanton Swihart