Nonesuch released Sleep with One Eye Open, the debut album from mandolin-virtuoso Chris Thile and guitar maven Michael Daves, on May 10, 2011. Recorded live to tape over four days at Jack White’s Third Man studio in Nashville, TN, the album is a collection of 16 traditional tunes by bluegrass legends like The Monroe Brothers, The Louvin Brothers, Jimmy Martin, and Flatt & Scruggs.
Thile and Daves met at a bluegrass jam in Manhattan in 2005. Since then, they have been attracting fans with their high-octane interpretations of bluegrass standards at regular gigs at New York City’s Rockwood Music Hall. The duo will take their show on the road with a series of dates around the country this spring, including a three-night stand at Rockwood May 10, 11, and 12 (more dates to be announced soon).
The songs on Sleep with One Eye Open are so well-known to Daves and Thile, who were both brought up hearing and playing folk and bluegrass standards, that they were surprised to learn that others, including colleagues and peers, were not familiar with many of them. As Daves says, “We felt we needed to have a concept; we shouldn’t just try and go to record an album until we really knew what we wanted to say with it. Finally, [Nonesuch head] Bob Hurwitz told us, ‘You need to just do what you do.’ We decided to go down to Nashville and get good performances of the songs with the understanding that spontaneity is a big part of what we do.”
Thile continues: “Mandolin and guitar and two male voices—it’s such a good sound. It was important for us was to get that brother duet thing, but with this Lower East Side punk energy. One of the most enjoyable things about this experience was to underline the slightly delinquent side of bluegrass.” Recording in Jack White’s studio also added a special element to the sessions. As Thile explains, “It was awesome knowing that Jack White, whose music I love, was liable to poke his head in at any time.”
Chris Thile, who the Washington Post says “may well be the most virtuosic American ever to play the mandolin,” released the first of five solo albums when he was just 13 and, by the time he was 20, he was attracting a following among pop, country, and alternative-rock audiences as a member of the Grammy Award–winning Nickel Creek. He currently is best known for his Grammy–nominated string band Punch Brothers. NPR’s Bob Boilen has said “I’ve seen many musicians in my day, but my jaw dropped listening to and watching Thile play…The command he had of his instrument, from frenetically fast strumming to tasty quiet fills, it was just first-rate.”
Heralded as “a leading light of the New York bluegrass scene” by the New York Times, Michael Daves has been garnering attention for his work with Steve Martin, Tony Trischka, and Rosanne Cash in addition to his solo performances.