Sugar Hill Records
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
Nickel Creek's national debut, and second recording as a group is awe inspiring. Following on the heels of their previous independent release, Here To There, Nickel Creek ventures even more boldly into varied terrain with their new CD. Many music fans will already be familiar with 19-year old mandolin phenomenon Chris Thile. Chris had already made a name for himself as the prodigal young son of the bluegrass mandolin with 2 previous Sugar Hill releases to his credit, his first at age 13. Nickel Creek, as a band, already 10 years in the works finds Thile and his contemporaries reaching that first exciting plateau of maturity which gives me shivers to imagine the directions these musicians will travel in the future. Brother and sister Sean and Sara Watkins, although lesser-known, fit easily within the caliber set forth by the young Thile. Sean, 23, also an award-winning mandolin player, is most prominent within the group on guitar for which he has also won major awards. Sara, 18, is an award-winning fiddler, and along with Chris, handles half the vocal duties for the group. Rounding and bottoming-out this quartet on bass, formerly the only "adult", is Chris's father, Scott, 41. Scott has most certainly been a driving force behind keeping this group cohesive over the years through the thick and thin of adolescence; he is also an accomplished jazz and classical bassist. Following the course of both Chris and Nickel Creek's recorded inception, I have seen them grow first hand and develop the professionalism that has gained them notice in recent years. With Voices maturing and becoming more "adult", this is the perfect juncture to introduce Nickel Creek to the world.
Produced by none other than up-and-coming producer and well-rooted artist Alison Krauss, this recording is a winding road of varied styles. Leading off with Chris on banjo and mandolin, Ode To A Butterfly is upbeat, fast, and perhaps the bluegrassiest to be found here. On the other end of the spectrum is Reasons Why, a timeless love song, sung by Sara and written by Sean along with David Puckett. This song fits easily into the contemporary singer-songwriter genre and features nice percussive guitar from Sean. Another timeless love song. Celtic grooves pop up in a few places such as The House Of Tom Bombadil, and the traditional Cuckoo's Nest in which everyone shines. Most notably are Sara's fine fiddling, and Chris' Irish octave-mandolin playing on the latter. Another high-point and yet another Sean Watkins' composition is Robin And Marian, named for the legendary couple. Here, regal shades of early Fairport Convention meld with the more contemporary tones that I liken to Strength In Numbers. Complementing Sean Watkins fiery guitar is Sara's lovely fiddle and a mandolin-chop by Chris that is maybe only second to that of the likes of Sam Bush.
One song which spoke to the young group was pitched to them by producer Krauss, who herself started in music very young. Sinead Lohan's Out Of The Woods is a gentle, moody song with which the entire group identified. Krauss's production shines through in The Hand Song as well, a lilting tale, sung by Sara, of an adult living the lessons learned as a child. This song, written by Sean Watkins, could easily fit in with Krauss's own recent work. Any fan of acoustic music whether it be bluegrass, classical, folk, or Celtic will instantly fall for this CD. Nickel Creek is all grown up now, and there's nothing stopping them. That is, of course, unless they accidentally lock the keys in the van. Big Dad Scott is keeping a close eye to make sure that doesn't happen so as to keep those wheels rolling. Look for Nickel Creek to grace the stage of many festivals again this coming summer.
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Edited by: Paula Gregorowicz