Nickel Creek, This Side, Why Should the Fire Die – Triple Review! – Craft Recordings
Nickel Creek – Nickel Creek – Sugar Hill Records (2000)/Craft Recordings (2020) 180-gram stereo double vinyl 45 r.p.m., 49:34 ****1/2:
(Chris Thile – mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, lead/harmony vocals; Sara Watkins – fiddle, strings, violin, lead/harmony vocals; Sean Watkins – guitar, mandolin, lead/harmony vocals; Scott Thile – electric, acoustic bass)
Twenty years after Nickel Creek’s debut album, Craft Recordings has released a three re-mastered albums. Chris Thile, Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins represented part of the youth movement’s ascension into country music. Each of the vinyl albums have been cut by Bernie Grudman Mastering and pressed at MPO on 180-gram vinyl at 45 r.p.m. Nickel Creek (with covers and original material), produced by Alison Kraus introduced these younger, but experienced musicians to a new audiences. The opening instrumental track, “Ode To A Butterfly” with prominent mandolin, fiddle, guitars and banjo is upbeat Americana bluegrass. Thile’s reedy tenor adds a folk element to the flowing arrangement. There is a mellow flow to
“The Lighthouse Tale” as the instrumentation and vocals intertwine seamlessly. Sara takes vocal lead on “Out Of The Wood” in cohesive three-part harmony. Picking up the pace, “In The House Of Tom Bombadil” (Lord Of The Rings aficionados will recognize this name) is up tempo with soaring mandolin, fiddle and guitar. The gentle, loping context of “Reasons Why” is folk bliss. The earnest folk vibe permeates “When You Come Back Down”.
Their cover of the hymnal “Sweet Afton” distills gospel reverence. A certain highlight is the instrumental “Cuckoo’s Nest” which resembles a lively square dance. Sara’s lyrical soprano is graceful on a religious-tinged “The Hand Song”. Her violin accents are understated. In Celtic mode, “Robin And Marian” is evocative with pastoral motifs and impressive precision. The changing moods of this album are represented in the contrasting spirited “The Fox” and the plaintive “Pastures New”. This is a very auspicious “debut” for Nickel Creek.
Side One: Ode To A Butterfly; The Lighthouse’s Tale; Out Of The Woods
Side Two: House Of Tom Bombadil; Reasons Why; When You Come Back Down
Side Three: Sweet Afton; Cuckoo’s Nest; The Hand Song
Side Four: Robin And Marian; The Fox; Pastures New
Nickel Creek – This Side – Sugar Hill Records (2002)/Craft Recordings (2020) 180-gram stereo double vinyl 45 r.p.m., 49:58 ****:
(Chris Thile – mandolin, guitar, bouzouki, strings, lead/harmony vocals; Sara Watkins – fiddle, ukulele, guitar, strings, lead/harmony vocals; Sean Watkins – guitar, vocals, harmony vocals; Byron House – double bass; Edgar Meyer – double bass; Robert Trujillo – double bass)
Also produced By Alison Kraus, This Side is a polished, well-crafted album. Opening with the hook-filled bluegrass instrumental, “Smoothie Song”, musicianship is at the core. “Spit On A Stranger” has an alt-pop sensibility with edgier lyrics. Romantic self-awareness is explored on the lovely “Speak” as Thile and Sara Watkins trade vocals. Another hushed solitude permeates “Hanging On A Thread”. Things change on “I Should Have Known Better” as the arrangement invokes a breezy melancholy with counter string accents. The title track is very accessible with great mandolin riffs and mellow vocals. “Green And Gray” is translated in an energetic waltz-time signature. Watkins’ plaintive violin and dulcet vocals are hypnotic on “Seven Wonders”. Thile’s religious message re-appears on “House Carpenter”. “Beauty And The Mess” is a subtle dig at musical performance. It is concise and tempo-driven, indicative of a potential change in direction for the group. The inherent lyricism of Nickel Creek is always present. Cuts like “Sabra Girl”, “Young” and the finale “Brand New Sidewalk” underscore the potent aesthetics.
Side One: Smoothie Song; Spit On A Stranger; Speak; Hanging On A Thread
Side Two: I Should’ve Known Better; This Side; Green And Gray
Side Three: Seven Wonders; House Carpenter; Beauty And The Mess
Side Four: Sabra Girl; Young; Brand New Sidewalk
Nickel Creek – Why Should The Fire Die? – Sugar Hill Records (2005)/Craft Recordings (2020) 180-gram stereo double vinyl 45 r.p.m., 47:12 ****1/2:
(Chris Thile – mandolin, vocals,, mandola, bouzouki, stomping; Sara Watkins – fiddle, ukulele, vocals, stomping; Sean Watkins – guitars, piano, bouzouki, vocals, stomping; Mark Schatz – bass, stomping; Eric Valentine – drums)
Nickel Creek changed producers (Eric Valentine) on their third release, Why Should The Fire Die?. Following the understated acoustics from the first two releases, the trio seems ready to create a more progressive indie/bluegrass amalgam. More importantly, the musicians infuse an immediacy that approximates their live performances. The newer “edge” is evident on the Irish-themed “When In Rome”. The vocals are grittier and darker. This sharper attitude continues on “Somebody Like You” in an alt-pop offering. There are traditional songs like the 3/4 time “Jealous Of The Moon”, and the trademark harmonies are warmly delivered. The first of three instrumentals (“Scotch & Chocolate”) is sprightly and evocative of the trio’s instrumental prowess. Sara Watkins’ voice illuminates “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”, and offers violin counterpoint to Thile’s mandolin. “Eveline” represents a brooding contemplation that is a new dynamic. Switching to bluegrass again, “Stumptown” is a short, delightful jam. Watkins expands her vocal credentials on the looser, bluesy “Anthony”. Nickel Creek rocks out on the dangerous “Best Of Love”, There is a distorted guitar and tough vocals surrounded by rhtythmic chords. The studio acoustics are modern, especially on the echo-laden “First And Last Waltz”. As the title cut swirls gracefully, the fluent eloquence of the music is captured perfectly
Craft Recordings has done a superior job in re-mastering these Nickel Creek albums to 180-gram vinyl. The 45 r.p.m. pressings are immaculate with pristine sound quality. All of the stringed instrument tonality is vibrantly reproduced. Nickel Creek’s unique vocal harmonies are breathtaking and effectively translated in the studio. Vinyl collectors will appreciate the high-quality gatefold packaging.
Side One: When In Rome; Somebody More Like You; Jealous Of The Moon
Side Two: Scotch & Chocolate; Can’t Complain; Tomorrow Is A Long Time
Side Three: Eveline; Stumptown; Anthony; Best Of Luck
Side Four: Doubting Thomas; First And Last Waltz; Helena; Why Should The Fire Die?
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