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Album Review: Nickel Creek – A Dotted Line

3 min read

Nickel Creek are a band we really should hear more about. The Southern-Californian trio are multi-grammy award winning, platinum selling outfit, however the bright lights of MTV or appearances on X-Factor never really came calling. Okay, so a seven year hiatus in 2007 may not have helped things but even so, musical talent of this quality doesn’t come around all that often.

NickelCreek-ADottedLineYou can’t help but feel that if the band were only just starting out their career, those bright lights of MTV wouldn’t be too far away. With the current resurgence of folk music coming to the forefront of radio play, rallied by artists such as Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers, one would have thought the band would have a part to play in the spotlight. (For instance both of their Grammy Awards were won for best contemporary folk albums – in 2003 with This Side, and 2005 with Why Should the Fire Die?).  Nickel Creek however are not just starting out on their musical voyage. In fact this year marks the bands 25th anniversary.

For any band, 25 years is a marvelous achievement, so what better way to celebrate that fact than to end an indefinite hiatus and reunite to release a brand new set of songs. It was in early 2013 that the band got together in Chris Thile’s (Mandolin/Vocals) apartment, and began writing to form album number six – A Dotted Line.

The trio are renowned for their individual musical virtuosity. All three members sing, and sing well.  Sara Watkins, (sister of Sean) excels on the fiddle, while her brother takes the reins on the guitar, and Chris Thile adds the unusual melodies on his mandolin. Their harmonies are perfect, natural, and once heard, couldn’t be imagined any other way.We kick things off with album opener Rest Of My Life. It is perhaps a slightly sluggish start to proceedings, however those harmonies eventually begin to shine through and the use of classical instrumentation keeps thing interesting in the middle section. The band really takes it up a gear in Destination, with Sara Watkins taking the lead on vocal duties. This is the folk rock we want to hear from Nickel Creek.

Never one to shy away from the odd instrumental track, the band show us their chops in Elsie. That individual virtuosity is clear here, but it’s the way they can make all three instruments work together without it sounding clustered or over the top that is the real key to this track. It’s an optimistic sound, and reminds you of taking a stroll through the countryside on a warm summers day. The album continues its walk along the folk parade for the duration, taking the odd twist and turn here and there, as Nickel Creek always do. 21st of May takes us into Country territory, while Mother Mother’s cover Hayloft has its pop influences. ‘Folk with a twist’ may be a good way to describe events. The album closes with a great rendition of the Sam Williams number Where Is Love Now? Those natural vocal harmonies once again take the stage, showcasing the trio’s ability to bounce off of each other with ease.

The album on the whole stays in line with the work Nickel Creek have done on previous albums. It’s progressive acoustic music, quirky folk with the odd bit of experimentation perhaps. At times this experimentation doesn’t quite work. Instrumental track Elephant in the Corn is an example of not being quite interesting enough to stand on its own two feet. That being said,  the band continues to explore their own sound and given this being a 25th anniversary record, that’s a good effort.  For the most part A Dotted Line is a fun listen that will keep you entertained, and at times in awe of the astounding musical ability these three musicians hold.