Chris Thile: Laysongs

Jeff Tamarkin on June 7, 2021
Chris Thile: Laysongs

Laysongs is, both by design and default, Chris Thile’s most personal album. It’s just him—voice and mandolin—offering six originals and three covers. It couldn’t be any other way—as Thile has said about the recording, it would have been unfair to place these words in the mouth of another singer. There’s a lot of spiritual threads running through the music—one track is titled “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot” and another is even called “Ecclesiastes.” None of these selections would feel quite right if they were written for Thile’s band, Punch Brothers or, for that matter, anyone else. But that said, Laysongs is not a preachy work and, while there are strong gospel influences in the phrasings that Thile brings to the songs, they can easily be enjoyed out of that context, simply as pure expressions of joy and heart. “Laysong,” the first track, practically wills itself into existence from nothingness: an understated thump, a handclap and then that voice, inviting us to settle in and hear what the man has to say. “Oh, but then what shall we sing?/ Tell us, oh, but then what shall we sing now/ When we gather together with a hard week going and a hard week coming, to catch our breath?/ Laysong.” Thile is comfortable on his own and, as the collection unfolds, so are we: He doesn’t need any help to reach us. The three-part “Salt (In the Wounds) of the Earth” is a master stroke, a one-man mini[1]opera of sorts, while the covers, whether emanating from Béla Bartók (“Sonata for Solo Violin,” expertly transposed to mandolin) or Buffy Sainte-Marie (the aforementioned “God Is Alive…,” based on a Leonard Cohen poem), are effortlessly Alive…,” based on a Leonard Cohen poem), are effortlessly remade in Thile’s image.