Here to There

Nickel Creek

Bluegrass Now, Jan. 98

Here to There; You Don't Have to Move That Mountain; Found Soul; Old Cold Coffee on the Dashboard; He Will Listen to You; A Simple Song for Salty the Singing Seaslug; Moonfleet Beach; Natural Kind of Love; The Narrow Way; Cross the Bridge

Innovative. Cutting-edge. Intricate. Polished. Powerful words? Sure. But Nickel Creek has earned them all. Sean and Sara Watkins (brother/sister) and Scott and Chris Thile (father/son) have been making musical waves for years. After winning numerous individual and band competitions, it's satisfying to watch them emerge now as creative, vital musicians in their own right. Notice, for example, the songwriting credits. Three cuts were penned by Chris, two by Sean, one by Chris and Caleb Reinhardt, and two were co-written by Sean and David Puckett (brother of '60s recording artist Gary Puckett). Both Chris and Sean write sophisticated instrumental pieces with a maturity beyond their teenage years. Case in point: Sean's title song. "Here to There," opens with a moody interplay between his guitar and Sara's fiddle, quickly moves into a jazz-flavored arena, brings in Chris's mandolin chops and Scott's mellow bass, and then more clean guitar work, as each passage is woven deftly into the whole.

Jazz influences can be heard throughout this project. Melodies break the 1-4-5 mold, taking off in unexpected directions, timing changes occur as songs unfold; often the bass is bowed, and when it's not, it's more active than in standard bluegrass fare (no doubt a holdover from Scott's pre-family days as a jazzman; listen to him groove on "You Don't Have to Move That Mountain").

For special lyrics, try "Natural Kind of Love" (written by Sean and Puckett). We often forget that love can be as natural as a sunrise and Sara's sweet lead vocal and Sean's harmony are beautiful, while Sara's emotional fiddle punctuates the mood with gentleness and grace.

Instrumental highlights include "Salty the Seaslug. " Chris kicks off the up-tempo tune with his usual crystalline mando picking, followed by Sara's hot fiddle. But it's Sean's guitar work that's bound to draw attention. It's easy to see the John Moore influence in his clean, precise melody work.

While there are still some awkward vocal phrasings, Nickel Creek is instrumentally one of the finest bands in the country. Watching them over the next 20 years should be a kick.

Walnut Valley Occasional Winter/Spring 1998

Nickel Creek! What do we call you? Bluegrass? Folk? Jazz? New Acoustic? Gospel? Yes!

"Here to There" sums it all up. Over the past three years at the Walnut Valley Festival, I have watched Nickel Creek perform and grow, and I could say mature; but I do not think they were ever immature.

They just keep reaching higher levels of achievement, musically, lyrically, and spiritually. Their latest release, Here to There, is so much more than an excellently produced and engineered effort; it is a testimony of the ideal independent recording, and the lyrics these young tunesmiths are penning are testimony to an even higher plane.

Nickel Creek is Sarah Watkins on fiddle, Sean Watkins on guitar, Chris Thile on mandolin, bouzouki, and banjo, and Chris's father Scott on bass. Scott is also the chief engineer and mentor of these eclectic teenagers, who share not only vocals, but also heavy, heavy instrumental duties. All four members join together equally and selflessly to form one huge star.

I think a label is out of sorts here; the music is simply acoustic.

Here to There reminds me so much of their last live performance, one that I saw at the 1997 Walnut Valley Festival. Flawless, intricate, lightning fast, yet smooth and fluid, and ever so spiritual-not preachy or judgmental, but spiritual.

Upon obtaining this CD and listening to it for the first time, I was amazed at how well the live mix sound was captured. I can close my eyes, listen, and see them performing live.

All the cuts but two, a powerful version of Keith Whitley's "You Don't Have to Move That Mountain" and the soulfully penetrating song by Mark Heard, "He Will Listen to You," were written or co-written by Sean Watkins and Chris Thile. Each arrangement is consistently complimented by the band's masterful ability, and the selection order keeps you surprised-play after play.

There are no weak cuts, and every lyrical song offers hope.

I can only hope for more from this group of wonderful people. Hey, what can I say? Now I am a "Found Soul" (track 3).

In the Walnut Valley Festival list of artists: