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Old 09-04-2013, 08:56 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Join Date: Apr 2012
Location: Oxford, England
Posts: 40
Default Nickel Creek (Nickel Creek)

Recently I decided to listen to the top 12 bluegrass albums of all time according to RYM and write reviews on each of them, I will post them gradually here.




12-Nickel Creek (Nickel Creek)

Nickel Creek were one of the first bluegrass bands I listened to as my introduction to the genre came from post-bluegrass band Punch Brothers which is a bluegrass collective that formed from the ashes of Nickel Creek and they both have virtuoso Chris Thile on the mandolin. I had never listened to their self titled before so I feel that this disciple list has given me a nice one to start with: an album I am yet to hear but should know what to expect from. It's their third album (but by many considered to be their first what with the redefined style) and the only one of theirs to be in this top 12 so after this I will be waving them farewell, but will the farewell be sorrowful or relieved?


The first thing that one should draw attention to is the producer's credit. I'm not saying that the production is overly noticeable or that there are ill beats all over the album but when Alsion Krauss: bluegrass royalty is producing an album of a pretty small time newgrass band then that's likely to catch a lot of people's attention, that's probably how this album ended up going platinum. Another thing to draw attention to is the sheer level of musicianship: I knew before listening to this that Chris Thile is a mandolin virtuoso and one of the very best in the world but didn't remember anything about the other musicians. Sara Watkins on the fiddle gets a lot of chances to show off and doesn't disappoint especially in her ability to adapt to the range of moods: for example, in the song 'Sweet Afton' the violin part is made up of many legato and lengthy violin notes that Watkins is able to fill with possibly even more emotion than Thile's vocal delivery (not an insult to Thile, the fiddle is just that good) yet on other songs such as Ode to a Butterfly she does the traditional bluegrass thing of busting a face melting fiddle solo. Talking of traditional bluegrass, this album is described as progressive bluegrass or even newgrass. It's not progressive in the same way as prog rock so we won't be seeing concept albums about aliens coming to murder Rasputin but musically it features a lot more slower and laid back songs than is considered typical of the genre and uses a lot of very precise harmonies between instruments in the instrumental songs. It's kinda hard to describe and I do urge you to listen if you're a bluegrass fan but the easiest way to say it is that it kinda seems like middle ground between bluegrass and Americana.

The vocal delivery is split between Thile and Watkins which dos create for nice variety and they both generally have very pleasant voices except on 'The Hand Song' where something about Watkins' voice really rubs me up the wrong way, it may be because of the American accent as I can imagine it working very nicely with a Scottish accent and to a lesser extent, an English accent. The songs have a healthy 7:5 split of songs they wrote themselves against songs they didn't with Thile and guitarist Sean Watkins writing all of the Nickel Creek originals. It's lyrically very reminiscent of both American and British traditional folk music whilst taking forays into the Americana lyrics department as well. They manage to make their own lyrics feel very traditional, I mean, just check out these lyrics from the Watkins' written 'The Fox'

The Fox went out on a chilly night
He prayed for the moon to give him light
For he had many a mile to go that night
Before he reached the town-o, town-o, town-o
He had many a mile to go that night
Before he reached the town-o
I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been a song sung around campfire's and you will find me singing along every time it comes on now.

I'm not going to pretend it's bringing bluegrass to the masses, I don't think that's what they were trying to do. I'm also not going to pretend that if you're a hardcore traditional bluegrass fan that you're likely to enjoy this album but you just might. I want to call it an entry level bluegrass album but I don't think that's right either. What Nickel Creek are is entirely their own who are creating music that they want to create and if it gets platinum sales, that's just jam. I can recommend Nickel Creek to fans of any style of American country and folk music and even the beard brigade of the British folk scene. It was a joy to listen to and a very pleasant way to begin the disciple list.

Rating
8.7/10

I'll also be doing my own personal tier list to how I think this **** should be goin'
1-Nickel Creek (Nickel Creek)
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