Review: Nickel Creek Give Listeners Their Money’s Worth

Nickel Creek/Celebrants/Repair Records
Four out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

A super group well before their time, Nickel Creek provided the proving ground for its principal players—Chris Thile and siblings Sara and Sean Watkins. All parties went on to build on the band’s initial accomplishments, specifically, their formidable role in bringing bluegrass to a new and younger populist following.

Nevertheless, the successes the three achieved on their own seemed to affirm the fact that Nickel Creek was now firmly in the trio’s rearview mirror, a superb starting point but clearly a memory from which there was nothing further to explore, that lingering legacy aside. Consequently, when the trio decided to reunite after a nine-year hiatus, it seemed something of a surprise. After all, the three musicians have hardly been idle when it comes to maintaining an active muse. On the other hand, with the new album boasting 18 tracks and an upbeat handle, there’s obviously plenty more that they wanted to share. Happily, they didn’t coast through their performances, as might have been the case with any other outfit that had accumulated a similar set of kudos. 

In fact, Celebrants is significant, not only due to its status as a revival of sorts but also because the participants treated it as something well worth celebrating. That’s only natural of course, considering their common bond, but the craft and commitment go well beyond any sort of ceremonial pursuit. Their efforts go well beyond mere token intent. That’s immediately evident with Sara Watkins’ opening exhortation on “Thinnest Wall” and the over-the-top harmonies, the instrumental interplay, and the obvious exuberance shared in practically every other song as well—“To the Airport,” “The Meadow,” “Where the Long Line Leads,” and the title track included. The enthusiasm is obvious, and even when they opt for a respite, as with the shimmering sound of the aptly-titled “Holding Pattern,” the lovely “Failure Isn’t Forever,” the tender trappings of the two-part “Water Under the Bridge,” and the reservation and restraint found in “From the Beach,” the communal connection remains intact. So too, “Hollywood Energy” radiates as a beautiful ballad, while “Goddamned Saint” ricochets with earnest enthusiasm.  

Mostly though, Celebrants comes across as a bold new venture, one that’s unrestrained in terms of melody, motif, and obvious enthusiasm. Classifying it as a bluegrass revival is simply inaccurate. Rather, it represents the second phase of an initiative established early on, one that speaks as much to the future as it does to the past. Which is ample reason for celebration indeed.

Photo by Josh Goleman / Sacks & Co.

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