This was a fun album to dive into because of where Nickel Creek falls into my personal musical history. Nickel Creek was all the rage among my Christian youth group peers back in the early to mid ’00s. They were on the cusp of the hipster bluegrass movement that’s sprung up in the last few years. I could listen to them at 17 and smugly think, “This is sooo much better than anything on the radio.” Plus their music was just vaguely Christian enough that it played even more into our hands.
And then I stopped listening to them. Not for any big reason, but I just gradually replaced them with a lot of other things and completely missed when they released Why Should The Fire Die? back in 2005. Thankfully, I caught their performance on The Tonight Show a month or so ago, where they played a song from their first album in nine years (!), A Dotted Line. Needless to say, the performance was incredible and after seeking out that album, found that it was a good listen.
So I was excited to fill in the last gap of their discography with this album. And I have to say, it’s definitely got some grit to it that Nickel Creek and This Side did not. If I had kept listening to them back in my teens, I would’ve gotten this album after it was released and been in for an unpleasant surprise. There are not many songs on this album that would fit well on their previous work; musically it seems heavier, darker than where they’d been before.
The mandolin player, Chris Thile, has his name on many of the songwriting credits of this album, and most likely he is the main reason for the darkness in tone. He had just gone through a divorce the previous year, and you can hear the bleed-over into the music in songs like “Can’t Complain” and “Helena.”
But it’s this darkness that also evokes some of my favorite moments on the whole album. “Eveline” is this haunting dance of harmonies between the singers. “Somebody More Like You” is a middle finger from a spurned lover that cleverly couches a bitter rebuke in seemingly apologetic terms.
The album could stand to reign in it a bit though, with “Can’t Complain” being a completely forgettable and superfluous addition to the angry side of the record.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. There are a lot of lighter-sounding tunes, like the Bob Dylan cover “Tomorrow Is A Long Time” and the old-timey sound of “Anthony.” There are some great folk instrumentals that are a staple of Nickel Creek’s discography, and then even another vaguely Christian song in “Doubting Thomas,” albeit dealing with more shaky ground than on previous albums. (I have to admit, while I might poke slight fun at this song, it’s one of my favorites on the record.)
If you’ve never listened to Nickel Creek before, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this album (honestly though, you can start anywhere in their four-album discography and you wouldn’t go wrong). If you’ve been a Nickel Creek fan for a while and haven’t heard this one, give it a try. It’s a fantastic example of a really good band stretching their range while staying somewhat grounded in the sound that makes them “them.”
Top 3 Tunes:
- Doubting Thomas
- Somebody More Like You