By Steven Stone
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CD Stock Number: SUG-CD-3909
Nickel Creek is a band made up primarily of young musical whiz kids. Three of
its four members are under 23 years old. Two are siblings, Sara Watkins (19)
on fiddle and vocals, and Sean Watkins (22) on guitar, mandolin and vocals. The other two are father and son. Chris Thile (19) plays plays mandolin,
bouzouki, banjo, and vocals, while his father Scott (42) plays bass.
While Nickel Creek's members are well-schooled in bluegrass essentials, their
music is certainly not straight-ahead traditional stuff. Instead it shows strong Celtic, contemporary pop, swing jazz, hard bop, and classical
influences. The result is what could best be called modern acoustic-based semi-traditional popular music. In addition to several original instrumentals
like "Ode to a Butterfly" which will have mandolinists jaws dropping to knee
level, there are several strong original songs here. "The Lighthouse's Tale"
is a nice twist on the old boy-loves-girl who goes to sea and dies in a storm, is buried in the sand by the boy, who then jumps off the lighthouse.
It's told from the point of view of the lighthouse. Cheery stuff. For covers
there's a Tim O'Brien and Danny O'Keefe tune "When You Come Back Down", Robert Burns' "Sweet Afton", and the traditional tune "Cuckoo's Nest".
Alison Krauss produced this CD. Gary Paczoza held down the engineering chair
while Doug Sax did the mastering. It sounds as good as any huge-budget "platinum-bound" Nashville production, maybe better since it has better
dynamics with less universal compression and limiting.
It's tough for "old dogs" like myself to listen to "Nickel Creek" without pangs of remorse. I know I'll never be able to play mandolin as well as Chris
Thile, or guitar as cleanly as Sean Watkins. Still it's a bit like watching a
thirteen year old gymnast during the Olympics, not only do you marvel at their physical prowess, but you wonder how much better they can get, how life
will temper their art, and how their lives will turn out. Unlike young gymnasts, Nickel Creek's members seem to have a well above average grasp of
musical history. I can only ruminate on how life will temper their music. Wherever they end up, this CD demonstrates that Nickel Creek's members have a
head start over mere mortal musicians.