Nickel Creek – A Dotted Line (Album Review)

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Nickel Creek is a band that a few of our readers may not know. After a seven year hiatus, the band has reformed to create a new album titled A Dotted Line.

Chris Thile, alongside siblings Sara and Sean Watkins created Nickel Creek in 1989, but didn’t catch their break until 2000, when bluegrass/country legend Alison Krauss produced their self-titled album. The band’s style has often been described as New Grass. A modern take on the bluegrass genre.

After blazing a trail with their unique style, returning after seven years raises the question; Is the music relevant in today’s culture? Let’s dig in and find out.

Rest Of My Life was chosen to kick off the new album. With a minimalistic approach in tow, Sean Watkins guitar begins the song while Chris Thile handles the main vocal duties. Sara adds some violin accents underneath it all, as those warm and fuzzy harmonies finally return. My goodness how I’ve missed this band. In all honesty, it’s rare that a band can skip seven years and return to form. I’m two minutes into this album and I’m already sold. With a quirkiness that only Nickel Creek can create, the song structure is not your run of the mill example. It is extremely impactful though.

The high energy Destination is the next track and there are a couple things I want to discuss with this one. First, it’s pure Nickel Creek. If you’re looking for a starting point to discover their sound and build from there, this is it. All of the elements within their sound are there and shine like diamonds. Second, Sara handles the main vocal duties on this one. Her voice has always been one of my favorite female voices of all-time. There’s this sweetness, this innocence in her tone that somehow comes off as sexy. Having said that, this song is in my top 5 Nickel Creek songs. Can you believe that? Two songs into the new album and a song lands in my top 5. Unbelievable.

Nickel Creek – Destination:

The gorgeous instrumental Elsie leads us into Christmas Eve. A song that sees Sean take the mic. The story telling aspect is prominent early in this one. Then, those harmonies make you lose your mind. If you don’t get chills when this chorus begins, then you just can’t relate to the band. That, or you’re not breathing. I’m leaning towards the latter.

Let’s do a quick recap before we move forward. Why? Because I want to highlight the hows and whys of the album.

1. Features Chris on lead vocals.
2. Features Sara on vocals.
3. Is an instrumental. Something they’ve always been known for.
4. Features Sean on vocals.

I might add that other than a bass guitar, the trio were the only musicians on the album thus far.

Now we are fully caught up with every aspect that the band offers. Right? Wrong. What’s next, might just be the most innovative cover song I’ve heard in years. The cover of Mother Mother’s Hayloft answers my earlier question of; Is their music relevant in today’s culture? It’s not only relevant, it’s blazing an entirely new path. I’m not even sure where to begin describing this song. It’s a perfect blend of pop, new wave, a hip-hop beat, a mandolin, fiddle, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, multiple vocals and Nickel Creek harmonies. The cherry on top, is the section (also in the original) that reminds me of Hey Ya! by Outkast. Staying pretty true to the original melodies and song structure; the band changes it up just a bit by twisting the song title into the melody. Seriously though, this song is mind-blowing. It’s hard to grasp the first ten listens, there is just so much awesome happening.

After seeing the band and getting some more insight, 21st of May is a song that is about the supposed apocalypse a few years back that was supposed to happen, but obviously didn’t. It’s a song that has a sense of humor and is now a highlight of the album for me.

Nickel Creek – 21st of May:

The song sets up the hauntingly beautiful Love of Mine. With Chris back on lead vocals, Sara sets the mood with her somber violin performance; As Nickel Creek sets the atmosphere like no one else can.

Nickel Creek – Love of Mine:

After the upbeat traditional instrumental Elephant in the Corn, You Don’t Know What’s Going On comes in like a lamb, but quickly roars like a lion. With the most intense chorus on the album, the band toys with you by playing with the momentum; pushing and pulling the tempo before unleashing those all-consuming harmonies. It’s the wildest vocal ride on the album and one of my favorites.

Closing the album, quite fittingly I may add, is Sara returning to the forefront with the astonishingly beautiful version of Sam Phillips song Where is Love Now. As I mentioned before, her tone is innocent, soothing, sexy and you can now add inspiring. With Where is Love Now, you will be hard pressed to find a more beautiful vocal delivery. The slow pace and wonderful melodies create the perfect way to end this album.

With Nickel Creek’s return, I feel that a musical void has been filled. It’s not a void I even realized was there, but after listening to this album several times, my heart feels as if all is right with the world once again.

Most bands don’t read their own press, but on the off chance that happens with this article, I want to say thank you to the band for their return.

I have not seen the band live since 2004, at the House of Blues in Orlando. I still have the shirt and I still discuss how to close the show, the band unplugged their instruments and mics, stepping to the front of the stage and filling the room with music. It was simply incredible. So with this new music; Their return is at the top of my personal go-see concert list.

Unsung Melody Score: 10 out of 10

Preview or purchase A Dotted Line below:

Keep up with Nickel Creek below:
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