Why Should the Fire Die?
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2005, Volume 12, #9
Written by T.J. Simon
The music of southern Californiaís Nickel Creek is generally lumped, for lack of a better classification, into the bluegrass (or "newgrass") category. However, the trio of Sean Watkins (guitar), Sara Watkins (fiddle), and Chris Thile (mandolin) more accurately performs a unique brand of contemporary folk that owes more to pop music conventions than to the rustic refrains of Appalachia. On its third outing Why Should the Fire Die?, the two key ingredients of the Nickel Creek formula are in place: watertight instrumentation and intoxicating three-part harmonies. Unfortunately, the new album lacks a stand-out single that reaches out and grabs the listener in the manner that The Smoothie Song or the cover of Pavementís Spit on a Stranger did on the groupís Grammy- winning 2002 release This Side.
Without question, Why Should the Fire Die? contains some commendable moments. The opening track When in Rome has a palpable intensity created by Saraís fiddle, and Scotch & Chocolate ó the best of the albumís three instrumentals ó begins with a simple, humble melody before exploding into a raucous breakdown that fully displays the virtuosity among the bandís members. Of the three Nickel Creek principals, Chris Thile is the least charismatic lead singer, yet he tackles nearly half of the albumís 14 tracks himself. Granted, he certainly carries his weight on the mandolin and harmony vocal contributions, but for a trio as young and vibrant as Nickel Creek, thereís no excuse for the inclusion of songs as dull as Jealous of the Moon, Doubting Thomas, and Eveline. This is particularly true when siblings Sean and Sara Watkins have such alluring vocal styles. Saraís little-girl voice casts a cover of Bob Dylanís Tomorrow Is a Long Time in a whole new light, and Seanís silky-smooth delivery provides the anchor on Somebody More Like You, his lone moment in the spotlight.
Despite being the weakest of Nickel Creekís releases to date, Why Should the Fire Die? is not without merit. Given that the musicians typically work together like a musical high-wire act, the instrumentation is absolutely flawless in its execution, and the harmonies are lush and intoxicating. From the jaunty, Irish-inspired Stumptown to the honest-to-goodness rock track ó with drums, no less! ó Helena, thereís a good bit to enjoy on the endeavor. However, there regrettably are just too many holes in the core songwriting as well as an under-utilization of Sean and Sara Watkins to merit a heartier recommendation.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box