Not All Who Wander Are Lost (Review)

Somehow the topic of music came up at my sister’s house the other day.  She had managed to find a handful of bargains at a sale and that she liked nearly all of them except for one CD.  My sis won’t listen to anything but old classic rock.  I asked to see the album that she hated.


She handed me “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” by Chris Thile.  I vaguely remembered hearing about Chris Thile several years ago when a friend played me a song by Nickel Creek.  It was a nice enough song, but I soon forgot about it, because I have to be in a certain mood to listen to bluegrass.  So, this week I found myself holding a copy of Thile’s CD.  I became very curious.

I skimmed over the list of song titles.  My eyes immediately stopped at track two, “Wolfcreek Pass”.  I hoped beyond hope that it was not a remake of the 1975 C.W. McCall novelty tune that has received more radio airplay than it deserves.  I asked sis to play the disc for me.

I was soon treated to an exquisite display of acoustic delight.  Track one, “Song For A Young Queen” was near perfection.  The playing was at once, compelling yet somewhat delicate.  I figured that if the first track was the only good song, then the CD was worth its retail price.

Then, “Wolfcreek Pass” started.  I kept waiting for the uptempo strumming of the C.W. McCall tune, but it didn’t happen.  Thankfully, I was being treated to a very upbeat, tasty instrumental.  The musicianship was stunning and contagious. I was blown away.  Sis could tell I enjoyed the music, so I was given the CD to keep.Thile-01

Once home, I just had to investigate Chris Thile and his music.  I found out that Thile is almost half my age and is an Oceanside, California native.  His parents exposed him to bluegrass music when he was just a toddler.  Amazingly he began playing mandolin as a five-year-old. Chris met young Sean and Sara Watkins while all three were studying music under the guidance of John Moore.

By age eight, Thile and the two Watkins formed the group Nickel Creek, under the direction of the two families.  Nickel Creek played the bluegrass music festival tours in the 1990s while being home-schooled to meet their educational needs. The trio met country and bluegrass star Alison Krauss after one of Nickel Creek’s shows.  They asked Krauss to produce their third album.  Krauss coached their vocal skills and also enabled the trio to tighten up their production qualities.

Soon, Nickel Creek had two Grammy nominations. Best Bluegrass Album and Best Country Instrumental for “Ode to a Butterfly”.  They also got a nomination for Best Vocal Group plus the Horizon Award at the Country Music Association Awards. In May of 2000, TIME Magazine called Nickel Creek one of the “Five Music Innovators of the Millennium”. The video for “The Lighthouse’s Tale” received a nomination for “Flameworthy Video Award” by the CMT network.

Among Chris Thile’s other associations are his collaborations with the Mutual Admiration Society, The Goat Rodeo Sessions, Mike Marshall, Edgar Meyer, and currently Punch Brothers.  His two solo albums are the 2004 “Deceiver”, and the one I’m reviewing today, which was released in 2001.

With apologies to Ricky Skaggs, who I admire, the music on “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” is a study in genius and virtuosity.  It’s a step above what I have liked about mainstream bluegrass and country music.  Thile’s self-described genre is “progressive bluegrass”.  I think that’s an apt name, too.

The album is rounded out with appearances by Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck, Stuart Duncan, Jeff Coffin and Jerry Douglas.  If you know anything about bluegrass or “new grass” you’ll recognize these amazing musicians.

I have to make note of track seven on the album.  “Club G.R.O.S.S.” is dedicated to the memory of the two main characters of the Calvin & Hobbes cartoon strip.  This cut has a 1950s jazz flavor that took me by surprise. The bluegrass theme is barely present in this cut.  It should bring a smile to any listener.

Even if you don’t care for music reminiscent of hillbilly culture, you may appreciate the skill, craftsmanship, and soulfulness waiting to be heard on this CD.  There is not a dud track on the album.  Every note is an expression of care and joy.

{ “Not All Who Wander Are Lost” by Chris Thile; 2001 from Sugar Hill Records; playing time 59:58; categories: bluegrass, country }


The Blue Jay of Happiness notes that Chris Thile is a great-great-grandson of Baseball Hall of Fame right fielder, Sam Thompson.

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in cultural highlights, Entertainment, music, Youth and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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