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Sean Watkins - 26 MilesMike Marshall / Chris Thile - Into the Cauldron

Sean Watkins
26 Miles

(Sugar Hill)

Mike Marshall & Chris Thile
Into the Cauldron

(Sugar Hill)

First Appeared at The Music Box, June 2003, Volume 10, #6

Written by T.J. Simon


Nickel Creek’s fusion of bluegrass with contemporary pop, lush harmonies, and youthful attitude has removed the music from the grips of country, while breathing some So-Cal life into an American tradition. On Nickel Creek’s self-titled debut and the Grammy-winning 2002 masterpiece This Side, the fresh-faced trio of Sean Watkins, Sara Watkins, and Chris Thile morph bluegrass into something altogether different and largely unrecognizable from its roots-oriented influences. This year, the band’s prolific nature continues with two separate side projects from members Sean Watkins and Chris Thile.

Sean Watkins’ solo effort 26 Miles is a collection of 13 shimmering acoustic pop originals. Recording a straightforward album affords Watkins more compositional flexibility than the drum-less trio Nickel Creek can offer. Throughout this collection, piano, bass, drums, and sax accent his ultra-smooth voice and impressive acoustic guitar finger-picking. His sister — Nickel Creek bandmate Sara Watkins — joins him on fiddle and harmony vocals for five of the best tracks including the stunning Locking Doors and equally terrific Take It Away. The CD also features harmony vocals from Glen Phillips (of Toad The Wet Sprocket fame) and the jazzy soprano saxophone of Trip Sprague. These sparkling guest performances combined with Watkins’ voice and guitar prove to be so alluring that there’s really nothing to dislike on the entire disc.

On the other hand, you’d have to be truly mandolin-obsessed to enjoy Chris Thile’s side project with Mike Marshall, a former David Grisman collaborator. Into the Cauldron is 11 instrumental tracks of Thile and Marshall tearing through original compositions (What A Blast!), classical mainstays (Bach’s The Goldberg Variations), and a Charlie Parker cover (Scrapple from the Apple) on nothing but their mandolins. While the virtuoso musicianship of Marshall and Thile cannot be denied, most Nickel Creek fans will find that listening to these guys wanking off with their mandolins for 45 minutes is a hard pill to swallow.

Buyers Guide: If you’ve never heard Nickel Creek, your first acquisition should definitely be This Side, the band’s jewel. If you like that one and want more, pick up the self-titled debut and Sean Watkins’ 26 Miles. And if the incessant and relentless plink-plink-plink of dueling mandolins is music to your ears, go ahead and overload your system with the Mike Marshall and Chris Thile collaboration Into the Cauldron.


Sean Watkins —26 Milesstarstarstarstar

Mike Marshall & Chris Thile — Into the Cauldronstarstar


26 Miles is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!

Into the Cauldron is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!



1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2003 The Music Box