Somehow I went years without hearing anything by Nickel Creek. I'm not sure how this happened--but it did and fortunately I've finally solved this problem. The band, probably best defined as bluegrass or folk, is made up of Chris Thile and siblings Sara and Sean Watkins (interesting factoid-Christ Thile's dad worked at Murray State for a while, and Chris attended for a few semesters. This fact makes it even more crazy that I'd never heard anything by this group before-although to be fair I had heard of them). The group is currently not performing together (they're all doing solo stuff). I bought two of their albums with Christmas giftcards. Their last album, Why Should the Fire Die?, I got because I wasn't paying attention when I bought it. I'd actually meant to purchase the self titled debut album. Lucky me. Seriously. I'll stick to the self-titled album for now, though, as the last cd deserves its own post.
Anyway. Nickel Creek was released in 2000, produced by Alison Krauss. From what I can tell, it's been their most successful album so far (went gold in 2002 I think, and platinum after that). Listening to it once will tell you why--it's a great mix of instrumental pieces, and a blend of more traditional (or at least traditional sounding) and contemporary stuff. The instrumental standouts for me would be the opening track "Ode to a Butterfly" and "In the House of Tom Bombadil," the first because it's a great opening number and I'm a sucker for folk-bluegrass instrumental jams, and the second because not only is it a great song but it references one of the more intriguing characters from the Lord of the Rings (that's stuff for another post, however, but just let it be noted that I am incredibly interested in Bombadil and his place in the Story of Middle Earth).
The "lyric" songs, for lack of a better term (it's 10 PM on a Sunday night, which means I'm not at my intellectual best but BLOG I WILL), are great as well. Standouts include "The Lighthouse's Tale", "The Fox", and "When You Come Back Down." This last track is likely a fan favorite-a really great love song, but not exactly a story so to speak. The lighthouse and fox tracks, however, follow that great tradition of folk music and story. "The Fox" will appeal to listeners of all ages, but I imagine my 3 year old nephew would get a kick out of it. "The Lighthouse's Tale" is rather surprising-it's a story told from the perspective of the lighthouse, as opposed to a song about a lighthouse. Strange as it sounds, it works. The point is, though, that not only are these good songs to listen to, but they're great stories.
In this album, Nickel Creek displays an undeniable musical talent-these folks can really play. But not only that, they can write songs and sing you to sleep with them. The harmonies are great and the group members seem to melt together in some ways. It's really lovely. The influence from Alison Krauss is apparent, but not overwhelming. Perhaps her presence is even more noted when one listens to this album in relation to the last one (Why Should the Fire Die?), which Krauss did not produce.
If you like folksy-bluegrass music, you'll love this band. In fact, I've already gotten another person tuned into Nickel Creek. Neither of us could believe we hadn't heard them before. Nickel Creek is a great starting place for their musical talent, and is definitely worth the money. So go buy it, but don't blame me when your toes are done wore out from tapping so much.