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This Side

An album by Nickel Creek

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Umm Bring Back the First Side, I Like It Better

  • May 14, 2005
  • by
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 by bluegrass icon Alison Krauss (she produced the CD, and this one as well), the CD struck a cord with this reviewer. The CD was the perfect fusion of music and vocals. The trio’s hauntingly beautiful harmonies and lilting, ethereal amalgam of classical, bluegrass, Celtic, folk music, and a touch of spirituality, pulled me into their universe and bade me to listen while they gave birth to music that played to and for my soul.

But that quality, that freshness, that soul-tapping beauty that so marked Nickel Creek’s freshman release, is sadly missing on their sophomore offering, This Side. When I first listened to the CD, I was thrown; I expected to hear the same musical quality, the same sweet bluegrass harmonies and poignant instrumentals that so marked the groups initial outing. What I heard instead was a disharmony of music, a disjointed body of work I found it hard to wrap my ear around, let alone my thirsty soul. So I put the CD away. I felt let down somehow; cheated and bamboozled.

But then I started listing to the trios first CD again recently, and I decided to give This Side another listen. This time I listened all the way through a few times, but sadly with the exceptions of a few tracks, my opinion of this CD is the same: I don’t like it. It’s not what I wanted or expected, its not bluegrass, it has more of a folk-music feel to it, and I do not care for folk music.

Although This Side opens with an instrumental number, entitled Smoothie Song it is the lat pure instrumental you will hear on the CD. The number lulls you into a false sense that This Side will be a promising album following closely in the footsteps of the group first offering. All the elements are there: the sharp upbeat tempo and the talent of thee musicians that seem to love to play together.

But after this number, the listening enjoyment ebbs, peaks momentarily on track No. 4 Hanging by a Thread, a quite introspective number, but then ebbs again. By far the most promising track on the album is No. 6, the title track This Side. At least on this track some of the groups old magic is back, the harmonies, the intermixing of voice and instrument is pleasurable and in balance. But then the album ebbs once more after this song, and never really picks up again.

Sara Watkins’ (violin, lead vocals) voice which was mournfully diminutive on Nickel Creek's first outing has not improved with age; in fact it has grown even tinier with age. This is starkly illustrated on track No. 8, Seven Wonders, where her voice is lost for the most part in the very beautiful instrumentation. The song itself could be meaningful, could move, but Sara’s voice, even when joined by the male members of the group sours the effect.

Not that This Side is a total lost; its not, the brilliant instrumental musicality that so mark the groups first CD cannot be completely buried in the mishmash of scattered vocals and rambling lyrics. With all I’ve said about this CD, I have not given up on the group; I experienced their brilliance once before and I have to believe that they will shine once more and grace us with pure brilliance that can be their music. 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.

The three principals of Nickel Creek are: Sara Watkins on fiddle and vocals; her brother Sean Watkins on guitar, mandolin, and vocals; and Chris Thile on mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, and vocals.

Track Listing:

Smoothie Song
Spit on a Stranger
Hanging by a Thread
I Should've Known Better
This Side
Green and Gray
Seven Wonders
House Carpenter
Beauty and the Mess
Sabra Girl
Brand New Sidewalk


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More This Side reviews
review by . December 07, 2007
posted in Music Matters
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 …
About the reviewer
Vincent Martin ()
Ranked #187
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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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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