£18.99 – 1xLP
Nonesuch Records releases mandolinist, singer, and songwriter Chris Thile’s Laysongs. The album is his first truly solo album: just Thile, his voice, and his mandolin, on new recordings of six original songs and three covers, all of which contextualise and banter with his ideas about spirituality. Recorded in a converted upstate New York church during the pandemic, Laysongs’ centrepiece is the three-part ‘Salt (in the Wounds) of the Earth’, which was inspired by C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. The album also features a song Thile wrote about Dionysus; a performance of the fourth movement of Béla Bartók’s Sonata for Solo Violin; ‘God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot’ based on Buffy Sainte-Marie’s adaptation of a Leonard Cohen poem; a cover of bluegrass legend Hazel Dickens’ ‘Won’t You Come and Sing for Me’; and an original instrumental loosely modelled after the Prelude from J.S. Bach’s Partita for Solo Violin in E Major. He performs solo shows in the US this spring and also continues his popular Sunday afternoon online masterclass series, Music Is Life Is Music.
Thile, who was raised in a Christian household, explains the inspiration for Laysongs, from a backstage conversation with Nonesuch’s Chairman Emeritus Bob Hurwitz, who told him, “‘You should do a God-themed record of some kind, it’s all over your work.’ It is a lifelong obsession of mine, even post-Christianity, what the impact of that kind of devotion to any organised religion is.” When the world went into COVID lockdown in the spring of 2020 and the public radio show Thile had hosted, Live from Here, ended its run, he finally had time to seriously contemplate this idea. Again, Hurwitz supplied a nudge, encouraging him to make a “snapshot” of his experience of the pandemic.
Thile’s wife, the accomplished actor Claire Coffee, served as Laysongs’ co-producer: “She has incredible taste and narrative intuition. She was able to help me weave the original and non-original material together.” During the summer of 2020, the family was temporarily living in Hudson, NY, where they found a recording studio, Future-Past, in an old church. “I went in there to look at the space and instantly felt so at home,” Thile recalls. “I loved the amount of sound around the sound. I had two sonic collaborators on this record: the tremendous engineer Jody Elff and that church.”
Thile realised – and illustrates in these songs – that his greatest spiritual sustenance comes from communion with others. “I was more than ever before craving that thing – singing with people, making music with people, but particularly that very selfless kind of music making that happens in church. At best you aren’t thinking about yourself or even about the people you’re making music with. You’re all just doing it together and it’s about something else. It’s really beautiful. And it’s maybe the only thing about organised religion that I miss.”
- God is alive magic is afoot
- Salt (in the wounds) of the earth, pt. 1
- Salt (in the wounds) of the earth, pt. 2
- Salt (in the wounds) of the earth, pt. 3
- Sonata for solo violin, sz. 117: iv. presto
- Won’t you come and sing for me