August 11, 2002
This Side (Sugar Hill)
With "This Side," acoustic innovators Nickel Creek have come of age, and not just because all the band members are finally over 21. Their latest displays a mature self-confidence that translates into a truly distinctive sound. The disc's lone instrumental, the opening bouzouki-blues, "Smoothie Song," is the only point where one will find anything approaching hot licks, which in itself is striking considering that collectively Nickel Creek, led by mandolinist Chris Thile--himself a modern day grafting of Mozart and Charlie Parker--is the best band of pickers in the business. The trio, with producer Alison Krauss, sculpts each tune into a musical statement, from their alchemic cover of Pavement's "Spit on a Stranger" to the delicacy of Thile's ethereal "Hanging By a Thread." Guitarist Sean Watkins' "Speak" uses his and sister/fiddler Sara Watkins' vocals in an affecting dialogue. As guileless as it is sophisticated, "This Side" delivers on the immense promise of their previous album, and then some.
More about Chris Thile:NICKEL - Nickel Creek at Schuba's (Chgo Trib, May 9, 2001)