Contrary to what the press has been trying to tell you this past month, Nickel Creek’s third outing Why Should the Fire Die? is not the equivalent of the Second Coming for alternative country. Produced by Eric Valentine (Queens of the Stone Age, Good Charlotte), it doesn’t rock either. Nevertheless, it kicks much ass albeit, in a quiet sort of way and that’s all that matters, right?
When the San Diego trio of Chris Thile and siblings Sara and Sean Watkins dropped Alison Krauss as producer and brought Valentine aboard, it signaled a subtle shift not only in style, but in stylistic unity. Gone is the band that struggled beneath its country yolk and in is one with a new willingness for thematic and sonic exploration. Consequently, the songs are no less harmonically complex, but they do move into darker territory this time around especially on songs like “Helena” and “Somebody More Like You.” There are drums too yes, on a bluegrass album although only on “Helena.” Nonetheless, many of the other tracks feature heavy foot-stomping and a new reliance on rhythm courtesy of accomplice Mark Schatz’s percussive bass guitar. It’s still traditional bluegrass-centric, but a more sophisticated and evolved version. Think Bluegrass 5.0.
| Why should the fire die? |
(Sugar Hill Records)
“When in Rome” might be one of the best openers ever, a cautionary tale of conformity with an unsettling dose of Celtic menace that one can’t help but relate to Nickel Creek’s drive for sonic independence. On “Somebody More Like You,” Sean Watkins sings the album’s best line, “I hope you meet someone your height so you can see eye to eye/with someone as small as you,” while on “Helena,” Thile’s narrator assures, “Guys like me never sleep alone at night/I don’t need your sympathy, I’ll always be just fine.” Just like Nickel Creek itself. •