The Little Willies/Punch Brothers

SXSW Showcase Reviews

Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., March 16, 2012

The Little Willies
The Little Willies
Photo by Jana Birchum

The Little Willies/Punch Brothers

Antone's, Friday, March 15

God bless the Little Willies for returning Norah Jones to her Texas roots, because a voice that amazing deserves a little twang. "We put most of our Willie songs in the set tonight, so you might say we're a little Willie heavy," she quipped midway through before launching into a growling and raucous "I Gotta Get Drunk." The all-star quintet shines on country standards by remaining loose in performance but tight in execution, allowing a lightness that lifts even its heaviest cuts. The harmonies between Jones and Richard Julian on "Lovesick Blues" rippled high and lonesome, while Jones slowed Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times" with a stunningly wanting ache and tender torture matched by Julian's take on "Permanently Lonely." "Jolene" proved to be the showstopper, however, with Jones' pitched pleading rivaling Dolly Parton's original. Chris Thile's supergrass quintet, Punch Brothers, followed, making its SXSW debut in a fury of strings. The band's at its best working in the dynamic range of a live set, Thile's vocal drifts able to morph and bloom on "Movement and Location" and through the mercurial rolls of "Who's Feeling Young Now?" While Thile's metaphors push limits in songwriting, the band's constantly contorting breakdowns and closing stomp of "Rye Whiskey" moved with perfect organic interplay.

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