A Dotted Line

A Dotted Line

Nickel Creek is back! Here’s a review of their latest album, A Dotted Line!

I first heard the “new grass” band Nickel Creek about seven years ago, when I bought a greatest hits compilation they put out. At the time, my husband Bill was in Iraq and I was listening to a lot of music because I was sending a lot to him. He needed something to keep up his spirits out there in the desert. Over the years, I’ve come to really enjoy the musical stylings of Nickel Creek, which consists of Chris Thile (mandolin) and sister and brother Sara Watkins (fiddle) and Sean Watkins (guitar). This band, which originated in southern California, has been around since 1989. They had a breakthrough in 2000, when Alison Krauss produced their self-titled album. They continued to put out new music until 2007, when they went on a seven year hiatus. This month, they released their latest effort, A Dotted Line. Naturally, I had to download it immediately!

A Dotted Line kicks off with strong guitar chords and strong vocals on the opening track, “The Rest of My Life”. As I’m listening to this song, I’m very impressed by how it blends the acoustic sounds of instruments typically reserved for bluegrass songs and fashions them into a song that sounds progressive and innovative. This song gets A Dotted Line off to a great start.

Sara Watkins sings lead on the next song, the hard driving “Destination”, which seems to flow seamlessly from “The Rest of My Life”. Again, it sounds like the song evolved from bluegrass but turned into something very creative and eclectic. This song puts a smile on my face. Sara Watkins has an ethereal voice that blends beautifully with those of her brother, Sean, and Chris Thile.

Sara Watkins really gets somewhere with “Destination”.

A mandolin kicks off the pretty instrumental, “Elsie”, which immediately appeals to me. This was written by Chris Thile and gives the band a chance to show off what really good players they are.

“Christmas Eve” is the next song. It’s kind of a sad song about a relationship about to break up. What strikes me most about this song is the complex musical arrangement. The melody is simple, but Nickel Creek has arranged an intricate overlay of harmonies and vocals to convey the sadness of breaking up during the holidays. Over the blend of mandolin, fiddle, and guitar are those voices, which somehow magically blend into a musical nirvana.

“Hayloft” takes Nickel Creek’s music into a totally different direction. This song was written by Ryan Guldemond and is a complete departure from the previous songs. It almost sounds like something I’d hear in Europe, with more plugged instruments and sound engineering sleights of hand. This is a song you could dance to. I think it will definitely grow on me, though I tend to prefer the more acoustic stuff Nickel Creek does. I’m just impressed by how innovative “Hayloft” is. It’s almost like bluegrass dance music, if you can conceive of such a thing. The song’s subject matter is pretty cool, too. Young lovers are in the hayloft, giving into their passions, even though the girl’s daddy has a gun… you better run.

A live version of “Hayloft”.

“21st of May” is an original by Sean Watkins and is simply glorious, with perfect harmonies and spiritual lyrics that evoke going to meet the Saviour on the 21st of May. Maybe those who don’t like religiously oriented songs may not appreciate this. I love it, though. Edited to add, a fellow Nickel Creek lover tells me this song is satirical and is actually about the late Harold Camping, who predicted the world would end on May 21st, 2011 and before that in 1994. Obviously, he was wrong both times. Now that I know that, I like the song even more!

The gorgeous “21st of May”.

Quiet, tinkling mandolin opens the next song, “Love of Mine”, an original song with a gorgeous, moving melody and deep lyrics. I’m not quite sure what this song is about, but I’m so caught up in the hauntingly pretty melody that it doesn’t matter.

“Elephant In The Corn” is another cool original instrumental, exciting and technically challenging. I love a good acoustic jam and this one delivers.

“You Don’t Know What’s Going On” is an original song with a quick tempo and a cool modern sound played on acoustic instruments. Once again, I marvel at how Nickel Creek takes such a quaint style and turns into something new and innovative. The lyrics are about a guy who gets caught up with a woman who played him for a fool. Musically, this song delivers on the raw pain and angst that comes from an intense love affair that disintegrates.

The last song is “Where Is Love Now”, which has sort of an ethereal opening as Sara Watkins’ fiddle leads off. The guitar and mandolin join in as Sara Watkins sings. She has such a pretty, angelic voice on this song by Sam Phillips. This beautiful, introspective song ends A Dotted Line on a pensive note.

Overall, I think Nickel Creek’s A Dotted Line is a fantastic effort and it was worth the seven year wait. What a joy it is to hear some fresh music by the very talented Nickel Creek. Now I want to go to a concert! If you like acoustic, “new grass” styled music, I highly recommend Nickel Creek’s A Dotted Line. I predict this album will be getting a lot of spins at my house.