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This Side

An album by Nickel Creek

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This Side Lands Well Over This Side of Awesome

  • Dec 7, 2007
Pros: Eclectic mix of sounds, beautiful instrumentals and vocals

Cons: None

The Bottom Line: The unique sound Nickel Creek produced on this album with the help of Alison Krauss is not to be passed up.

As a daughter of a wonderful fiddle and mandolin player, I've always had more of an interest in bluegrass music than most people my age. My favorite memories from all points of my life generally include bluegrass: my father plucking away at his mandolin, walking our country property at night playing his fiddle for anyone to hear, me and my sister running around barefoot at bluegrass festivals, dancing to the music all day long until we collapsed with exhaustion. Bluegrass music does something that not many other genres of music can do; it combines jazz, blues, country and rock but gives control completely to the musician, as they are encouraged to improvise and solo constantly. Bluegrass can be rough, fast and traditional or it can be gentle and flowing. Whatever type of bluegrass it is, it's almost always my type.

One bluegrass band I've made an effort to keep up with is Nickel Creek. Comprised of siblings Sean Watkins and Sara Watkins and their friend Chris Thile (pronounces 'feely'), they've been playing together as a band since they were kids. They've produced a fair number of albums together: Little Cowpoke (1993, Choo Choo Records), Here to There (1997, Tricopolis), Nickel Creek (self titled, 2000, Sugar Hill Records), This Side (2002, Sugar Hill Records), Why Should the Fire Die? (2005, Sugar Hill Records), and Reasons Why: the Very Best (a "best of" CD, 2006, Sugar Hill Records). This Side was created with the help of Alison Krauss as producer (my dad actually played with her one time!) and was released in the late summer of 2002. In it, Sara Watkins plays the fiddle and does vocals, Sean Watkins plays guitar and also does vocals, and Chris Thile plays mostly mandolin (although he also plays guitar and bouzouki for some tracks) and does vocals. For this album, there are two bassists, Edgar Meyer and Byron House. This Side is a fairly quiet, relaxing album with several great songs on it.

The album opens with the third single: an instrumental written by Thile called Smoothie Song. The song begins kind of quiet and slowly builds up part by part, instrument by instrument, introducing each artist's talent. Smoothie Song is a fun song in which Nickel Creek's members get to play with each other, bouncing off each other and working with the changing time signature. It was nominated for a Grammy Award for best country instrumental in 2002, and was the first instrumental to reach number 1 on the Billboard charts. The second track is Spit on a Stranger, perhaps the song that earned this album its fame, though the band admits to not being so fond of it as they've been given a hard time for this cover. A fun song, Spit on a Stranger was originally written and performed by Stephen Malkmus of the indie band Pavement. I really like this cover; it's fun to sing along to, and it's definitely a track that lets rock-star Chris Thile show off his goofy but talented self. The third track is a slower song called Speak, written by Sean Watkins and the second single from the album. In it, we get to hear Sean and Sara both display their beautiful voices, with Thile's also thrown in for harmony. The music is quiet and very pretty.

Hanging by a Thread is the fourth track written by Gordon Kennedy and Wayne Kirkpatrick. It's another rather quiet and slow song in which we hear the light notes of Thile's gently plucked mandolin and for the chorus we get to experience the trio's beautiful vocal harmony. Track five is I Should've Known Better, written by Hoosier Carrie Newcomer and sung mostly by Sara. This tune carries an atmosphere of mysteriousness to it and is quite hard to describe... it doesn't sound as bluegrass-ey but it a really unique track not to be overlooked. Title track and the album's first single This Side is song number six. This song pretty much features Sean Watkins with his smooth voice and quiet guitar and has a beautiful, haunting, slow sound to it.

Green and Gray, one of my favorite tracks on the album, is a track written by Thile and opens with the plucking of his mandolin and Sara's easy fiddling. The chorus makes my heart fill up; Thile's voice is backed by a prominent bowed bass and soft vocal harmony: "Green is the color that everyone sees all around me; gray is the color I see around her, she's just a blur," is sung clearly and meaningfully. This song has a few unique sounds within it and shouldn't be skipped over. Seven Wonders is a slow, gentle, Celtic-sounding song with Sara Watkins' pure vocals taking the lead, sounding beautifully similar to Alison Krauss. Thile and Sean Watkins back her up with their gentle instrument plucking and harmonizing vocals, but its obvious Sara is track eight's star. Song number nine is House Carpenter, beginning with eerie mandolin plucks and followed by Sean Watkins' breathy voice. House Carpenter is a British ballad that tells a story of a man who comes and whisks away the house carpenter's wife: "Now you forsake your house carpenter, and go along with me. I'll take you where the grass grows green on the banks of the deep blue sea." Beauty and the Mess is the tenth track, written by Thile and Luke Bulla. Sara Watkins' voice is carried through the tune above the sure and steady plucking of the instruments. This is a very pretty song that seems to roll along on its own.

Track eleven, Sabra Girl opens with Sara's gentle, beautiful voice and is later joined by the gentle light sounds of Thile's mandolin and Sean Watkins' quiet guitar. This song was written by Andy Irvine, an Irish folk singer, and the folk sounds can definitely be heard. About halfway through the song the sound gets fuller and heavier, capable of filling your heart with a bittersweet feeling. Track twelve, Young, written by Thile begins with a catchy guitar lick that is echoed throughout the song. A more upbeat tune, Thile voice is carried throughout, singing of a new, young, unsure love. Brand New Sidewalk, written by Thile closes out the album. It's a rather quiet, sad sounding song sung by Thile and accompanied mostly by the guitar, though it is later slowly enhanced with the mandolin.

This Side peaked at the number one position on Billboard's Top Bluegrass Albums and was certified Gold. Sean and Sara Watkins and Chris Thile carry each individual-sounding track all the way through to a beautiful end, leaving me wanting more. The cover of the album displays an illustration of a young, innocent girl covering her mouth. This illustration accurately describes This Side. The songs are Nickel Creek's own type of bluegrass; a sometimes traditional, sometimes progressive, sometimes Celtic mix that actually works. Though I'm left at times wanting something more upbeat from this album, it doesn't really let me down. The sounds are incredibly eclectic and fun, and each song has so much individuality its hard not to become drawn into them.

This Side was not the first Nickel Creek album I heard, but it's definitely one of my favorites. Nickel Creek is a group that seems to appeal to almost anyone; my traditional pickin' and grinnin' dad enjoys it, as do many people I know who claim to not like bluegrass music (I personally think they're just scared to try it!). This album is a must-have for Nickel Creek fans.

If you enjoy this, you may also enjoy Chris Thile's How to Grow a Woman From the Ground.


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More This Side reviews
review by . May 14, 2005
Pros: Instrumental; one.     Cons: They changed the formula, and strayed away from bluegrass.     The Bottom Line: Having explored the other side, I hope that they get back to their bluegrass roots and leave the folk music genre to those who perform it much better then they.     Nickel Creek, the young, brash bluegrass band from the hills and harbors of San Diego impressed me with their debut album, aptly titled Nickel Creek. Helped along …
About the reviewer
Laura Elizabeth 'Anderson' Brack ()
Ranked #319
I'm brand new to Lunch and looking to get settled. I write on epinions.com as laurashrti, and enjoy writing product reviews.      I'm a 27-year-old library employee working … more
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This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players. Nickel Creek: Chris Thile (vocals, guitar, bouzouki, mandolin); Sean Watkins (vocals, guitar); Sara Watkins (vocals, fiddle, strings). Additional personnel: Byron House (acoustic bass); Edgar Meyer (arco bass). Recorded at Emerald Sound, Seventeen Grand, The Brown Cloud Studios, Nashville, Tennessee. THIS SIDE won the 2003 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. "Smoothie Song" was nominated for the 2003 Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance. Personnel: Chris Thile (vocals, guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, strings); Sean Watkins (vocals, guitar); Sara Watkins (vocals, fiddle, strings); Byron House (acoustic bass); Edgar Meyer (upright bass). Audio Mixer: Gary Paczosa. Recording information: Seventeen Grand, Emerald Sound Studio, The Brown Cloud,. Editor: Tracy Martinson. Illustrator: Terry Hoff. Photographer: John Chiasson. Arrangers: Chris Thile; Sean Watkins; Sara Watkins . When they first made their...
Song List: Disc 1
1. Smoothie Song
2. Spit on a Stranger
3. Speak
4. Hanging by a Thread/The Day After Christmas
5. I Should've Known Better
6. This Side
7. Green and Gray
8. Seven Wonders
9. House Carpenter
10. Beauty and the Mess
11. Sabra Girl
12. Young
13. Brand New Sidewalk
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Label: Sugar Hill Records
Artist: Nickel Creek
Release Date: August 13, 2002

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