Is this the future of bluegrass?
Nickel Creek's Chris Thile,
who just turned 19, and
COLOR="#003163">Sara COLOR="#003163">Sean Watkins
COLOR="#003163">Sara, 18, and
COLOR="#003163">Sean Watkins, 22, are already
acclaimed, prize-winning musicians.
And now they're out with a remarkable debut album, the just-released
Nickel Creek, which arrives with the most recognized name in
bluegrass today, Alison
Krauss, attached as producer.
"Alison attended one of the summer 'Bluegrass at the Ryman' series shows
in the summer of 1998," Sugar Hill Records general manager Bev Paul
"Nickel Creek put on a stunning show. ... Alison just went crazy for them.
She came running backstage, hugged them all and told them that she would
like to help them.
"That evening and that level of acceptance marked the passing of a
threshold for them," Paul said, "and is still inspiring them to move full-tilt
ahead with their own ideas and visions for their original music."
Thile, who earned some notoriety for jamming with such elder statesmen of
the form as Ricky Skaggs
and David Grisman, has
been nominated four years running as Mandolinist of the Year by the
International Bluegrass Music Association. Thile (pronounced "Theelee") is
studying classical music composition at Murray State University in Kentucky.
Sean Watkins, at 16, was a finalist as both mandolin player and guitarist at
the National Flatpicking Guitar Championships, and Sara won the Arizona
state fiddle championship at 15. (Dad plays bass in Nickel Creek; Thile's
father, Scott, 41, completes
"Alison may have seen Chris playing on his own or the early versions of the
band when they were all in their early teens," Paul said of that gig with the
Tony Rice Unit, which
revealed Nickel Creek as a "fully developed band."
"But clearly [she] hadn't seen them recently," Paul said.
Nickel Creek has been developing for a full decade, since the young
musicians began hanging at bluegrass night at That Pizza Place in Carlsbad,
"I loved how free everything was. You could improvise stuff," Sean Watkins
said of his introduction to bluegrass. "And I just liked the way it sounded. It
was fun music."
(The Watkinses now live in nearby Vista, also the new home of
COLOR="#003163">Mark O'Connor, whose Nashville fiddle
camp the two attended.)
While firmly rooted in the traditional high, lonesome sound, Nickel Creek
give free rein to other influences. Nickel Creek includes, for one, the
J.R.R. Tolkien-inspired "House of Tom Bombadil" (
HREF="http://media.addict.com/music/Nickel_Creek/House_Of_Tom_Bomba dil.ram">RealAudio excerpt
dil.ram">RealAudio excerpt), written by Thile, who is also a "Star
Wars" fan. (His two solo Sugar Hill CDs sport "Star Wars"-based
instrumentals and, Thile said, he attended 12:01 a.m. and 3:30 a.m.
screenings of the most recent episode on its opening day.)
The album's diversity continues with "Out of the Woods" (
HREF="http://media.addict.com/music/Nickel_Creek/Out_Of_The_Woods.ra m">RealAudio excerpt
m">RealAudio excerpt) a Sinead
Lohan song; "Sweet Aflon," with lyrics drawn from the poetry
of Robert Burns; and a
contemporary Christian tale, "The Hand Song," in which Sara Watkins'
lovely, understated vocal delivery recalls that of fellow fiddler Krauss.
"My tastes keep expanding, to everything," Thile said, citing "of course, the
classical thing lately, a lot of Celtic music, a lot of jazz music."
"We're rooted in bluegrass because we started in it," Sean Watkins said, "but
we're branching out into all different areas. I've been trying jazz more, and
we do some more real progressive-type stuff ... try to keep it eclectic."