Hell on Church Street

Leave all expectations at the door, put on Hell on Church Street and let the Punch Brothers take you on an unique tribute to the late legend Tony Rice with an inspiring take on his classic record; Church Street Blues. Hell on Church Street by the Punch Brothers brings to bear what Tony Rice always executed in his playing, records, and live performances; innovative spontaneity, creativity, a wide musical breadth and strong showcase of improvisation. 

As the album title suggests, Hell on Church Street is a nod to the famous lyric from the piece “Church Street Blues,” written by Norman Blake. Hell on Church Street is a fiercely innovative nose-dive and beautiful tribute reimagining Rice’s 1983 record; Church Street Blues. Longtime fans of Tony Rice and Church Street Blues will notice Hell on Church Street follows the exact order of Tony’s record track-by-track, while bringing to bear the American country chamber classical music style that the Punch Brothers are so widely known for. 

“Church Street Blues” takes the listener deep into the ether of Thile’s syncopated mandolin with a rapid 5/4 pulse that ends with a light hearted kick off in 4/4 led by Chris Eldridge crosspicking in a wonderful tribute to his former mentor and friend that brings the listener back to Tony’s version of “Church Street Blues.” “Cattle in the Cane” brings forth both the spirit and energy of Rice’s playing, especially when Pikelny and Eldridge play Tony’s break, note-for-note. All the while “Cattle in the Cane” showcases the creative spontaneity of the Punch Brothers through the use of the fiddle drone and highly strong soloists and improvised sections. 

It’s highly inspiring to hear how the Punch Brothers bring in Tony’s ideas and harmonic language, such as in the ending of “Cattle in the Cane” while still holding true to their uniquely chamber style music sound. The Punch Brothers continue to develop and explore their own creative musical ideas in Hell on Church Street, with interestingly nuanced reharmonizations of singer songwriter classics such as “Streets of London,” “Last Thing on My Mind” and the freely improvised rendition of the bluegrass classic “Gold Rush.” 

Fans of the Punch Brothers catalogue, the new acoustic music canon, musical spontaneity, the Tony Rice classic “Church Street Blues” and The Tony Rice Unit’s SpaceGrass will be taken on a beautiful enigmatic musical journey throughout Hell on Church Street that takes them to places that they have yet to explore both sonically and musically.

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  1. Great commentary! I experienced observing Tony mentoring “Critter” in Tony’s hotel room during Merlefest in early 2000s – 2001 possibly? Tony loved that kid. You could tell.

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