By Helen Jerome
The Bluegrass innovators who revolutionised the genre back when they were pesky kids have now returned with their most ambitious album.
3. Water Under the Bridge, Part 1
4. The Meadow
5. Thinnest Wall
6. Going Out…
7. Holding Pattern
8. Where the Long Line Leads
9. Goddamned Saint
10. Stone’s Throw
11. Goddamned Saint, Reprise
12. From the Beach
13. To The Airport
14. …Despite the Weather
15. Hollywood Ending
16. New Blood
17. Water Under the Bridge, Part 2
18. Failure Isn’t Forever
Nickel Creek, the Bluegrass innovators who revolutionised the genre back when they were pesky kids produced by Alison Krauss, have now returned with their most ambitious album.
Comprised of Chris Thile on mandolin, Sara Watkins on fiddle and her brother Sean Watkins on guitar, the band have laid down 18 tracks so fresh and interconnected that it feels like they’re making their own Sgt Pepper or Pet Sounds.
Produced by Eric Valentine in Nashville’s famous RCA Studio A, it’s their first record together in almost a decade; written in a creative retreat in Santa Barbara where you can feel the excitement of this huge endeavour. Everything the trio explore here interlinks into the other, like a complete symphony or song cycle where every bridge and break could take you in a different direction.
From the get-go, Nickel Creek blast away the cobwebs on Celebrants, lurching and looping back and forth between punchy exhortations and stripped-back interludes. The intensity peaks on ‘Strangers’, its warm sentiments of reunion inhabiting itself under swirling mandolin and triumphant fiddle playing.
Each of the trio’s personalities presents itself immediately across the record. Sean comes to the fore on ‘Holding Pattern’, as notions of sirens and fever build into a dreamy yet jolting arrangement. Sara pulls out the big, bluesy vocals on ‘Where the Long Line Leads’ as her fiddle saws and chips away, at times almost unopposed by every sound that surrounds it. She’s fierce and uncompromising on ‘Thinnest Wall’, while Chris’ stream-of-consciousness vocals on ‘Goddamned Saint’ thrive after its ‘Eleanor Rigby’-esque opening.
Long-time fans will truly appreciate the instrumentals. ‘Despite the Weather’, sets Sara’s sophisticated and occasionally spooky violin against Chris’ warm mandolin and Sean’s steadfast guitar playing, while ‘Going Out’ embodies the mythology of a Celtic folk standard. Even when you think they’re reaching the end with the super-slow, ethereal sadness of ‘Hollywood Ending’, they always have something else up their sleeves. ‘Failure Isn’t Forever’ is a closer that leaves us relatively upbeat, a hopeful ending that ties the album together neatly as a whole.
This is an album to return to again and again. Of course, you can dip into your favourite parts and admire the astonishing musicianship, but it works best as a whole sequence; illuminating the characters and their relationships while evoking the trio’s obvious joy at being back together again.
8.5 / 10
Nickel Creek's 2023 album, Celebrants, is released March 24th via Repair Records / Thirty Tigers. You can purchase the record from one of Holler's selected partners below:
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To see all the country albums being released in 2023 and their release dates, see below: