3 Songs You Didn’t Know Chris Thile Composed for Other Artists

One of the most well-known and prolific mandolinists of the twenty-first century, Chris Thile has become an ever-present figure both in the recording studio and in music media. He has composed, played, and sung on endless releases, between his solo efforts, his work with Nickel Creek and Punch Brothers, and collaborations with other artists.

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In the mid-2000s, Thile formed his new group Punch Brothers after Nickel Creek disbanded in 2006. The quintet formed out of heartbreak, and a desire to funnel their relationship woes into bluegrass music. Thile told the Nashville City Paper in 2006, “We played, and there was a serious, instantaneous connection. Then I knew I wanted to put together a bluegrass band—one with a lot of range, but aesthetically a bluegrass band.” They would go on to play Carnegie Hall while delving into more individual opportunities.

1. “New Kid in Town” by Ryan Holladay (2005)

Written by Don Henley, Glenn Frey, and John David Souther, Composed by Chris Thile

Thile got his start at an early age, having recorded his first studio album, Leading Off, when he was 13, so it’s no wonder he was drawn to Ryan Holladay’s story in 2005. The two frequently crossed paths, having performed at the same bluegrass festivals, and Holladay even opened for Nickel Creek.

Holladay is, to this day, the youngest performer to ever take the Grand Ole Opry stage at age 5 in 1998. Considered a child prodigy, Holladay can play the banjo, mandolin, and guitar with ease. In 2003, he took to Humilitrax Studios, a small label in Tennessee, to record his first album, New Kid In Town. The label would release one other album, Col Arco by Daniel & Amy Carwile in 2007.

2. “Song Up in Her Head” by Sarah Jarosz (2009)

Written by Sarah Jarosz and Jerry Douglas, Composed by Chris Thile

Thile and Sarah Jarosz have been long-time friends in the bluegrass scene, with Thile performing alongside Jarosz on A Prairie Home Companion, now known as Live From Here, with their rendition of her song “Fuel the Fire” in 2015. Jarosz would return to Live From Here in 2016 to perform “The Mississippi is Frozen” with Thile and Punch Brothers in 2016, and again in 2019, with Thile as the host, singing her song “Back of My Mind” and a “bad guy” by Billie Eilish cover.

But before their live performances together, Thile helped compose Jarosz’s debut album, Song Up in Her Head, in 2009. The combination of bluegrass and stellar songwriting on “Mansinneedof” earned Jarosz a Grammy nomination for Best Country Instrumental Performance in 2010. Thile is present on “Little Song” as a vocalist and mandolinist. His playing is also featured on “Long Journey” and on the title track “Song Up in Her Head.”

Thile and Sarah Jarosz’s most recent collaboration was in 2022, where they took on her song “Lost Dog” and a cover of “Drive My Car” by The Beatles.

3. “Alternate World” by Son Lux (2013)

Written by Ryan Lott, Mandolin by Chris Thile

Son Lux made a name for themselves in the 2010s indie music scene, in part thanks to Chris Thile’s work on Lanterns (2013).

The band, helmed by Ryan Lott, released their first album, At War With Walls & Mazes, in 2008, but rose to prominence with Lanterns and songs like “Easy” and “Lost It To Trying.” They would go on to compose the Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) soundtrack, which featured artists like Mitski, David Byrne, and Moses Sumney.

Labeled as experimental, ambient alternative rock, the down-to-earth, “simplistic” reputation of bluegrass seems far outside Son Lux’s wheelhouse—or maybe not. Regardless, Thile’s mandolin playing on “Alternate World” suits the band’s sound—actually adding to the song’s otherworldliness. The mandolin glitters at the beginning, reverberating to create an organic spaciness usually achieved through synthesizers. The song is multifaceted, seamlessly integrating each of its distinct compositions into its four-minute run.

Lanterns received critical praise on Drowned In Sound and Consequence of Sound, with reviewers calling the effort “Lott’s most cohesive work, his music a prism refracting light onto the spectrum of change,” and as “multi-layered songs filled with fresh air.”

. Photo by Erika Goldring/WireImage

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