Sunday, December 24, 2006

Nickel Creek: This Side

For a band I discovered not that long ago, Nickel Creek has quickly become one of my favorite bands. A jazz-inflected bluegrass, Nickel Creek is one of the tightest bands I have ever heard, and they gained their virtuosity the old fashioned way: playing together. A lot.

The band's three core members are in their 20's and have been playing together for 12 years. In other words, they have spent more of their lives as a band than not.

Their second album, This Side sees the band pushing the boundaries of bluegrass a little more in the direction of folk rock while still keeping the jazz and classical overtones that marked their first album. The result is an even richer and more satisfying album. It's like chili- more ingredients just make it better.

Like their first album, This Side establishes itself right away with an instrumental, just in case you thought the band had all started drinking heavily and lost their chops between albums, they decided to let you know right away they still got it. The song is called "Smoothie" and it lives up to its name, with a smooth groove sure to have you tapping your feet.

Another good trait carried over from their first album is that this is album you will want to listen to all the way through. Alison Krauss has returned as a producer and helped craft an album without a weak link and the song arrangement is excellent, without a lag caused by too many mellow songs in a row or too many similar-sounding songs in a row. In other words, you will want to listen to the whole album.

Other stand-out tracks include "Speak", "Seven Wonders" and perhaps my single favorite Nickel Creek song on all three albums, "Beauty and the Mess" which is interesting lyrically (in other words you want to know the words- they actually say something) as well as a fine showcase for Sara Watkins' vocals.

A lot of bands with great debut albums suffer a sophomore slump. I'm happy to report that wasn't the case with Nickel Creek's second album, This Side.

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