This Side

Nickel Creek

Sugar Hill Records, 2002

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


Maybe they just couldn't handle the pressure. I mean, let's face it; all it seems I've done for the last two years is tell you how damned good Nickel Creek and their solo incarnations -- Chris Thile and Sean Watkins -- are. So I went into the second album from newgrass wunderkinder Nickel Creek, This Side, expecting great things, and came away strangely unsatisfied.

Worst thing is, I can't tell you why. A lot of things on here are done right. The musicianship of Thile, Watkins, and Sara Watkins is, as usual, stellar. So one supposes the answer needs to lie somewhere else. After multiple listens -- and I do mean multiple -- I think, however, I have three possible answers.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

One, the overall sound of the album. I don't know whether to blame the engineer, the production, or the session bass players (more about that in a moment), but the bottom end seems to have gotten knocked out of This Side. The production and engineering is competent, but seems to shortchange the sound on the deep end of things. A track like "Smoothie Song", the CD's opener, rarely seems to really resonate in the deep end of the harmonic range; there's no damn cojones to it.

Second is the songwriting. There are some good band-penned songs on this CD (specifically "Speak", "Seven Wonders" and "This Side"). But "Green and Gray" and "Brand New Sidewalk" just didn't work for me at all, and two of the three covers ("Hanging By A Thread" and Carrie Newcomer's "I Should've Known Better") seem forced and awkward. An uneven mix of songs at best; there's no "Reasons Why" or "When You Come Back Down" on This Side.

Finally is the bass sound -- or the absence thereof. Bass was provided by what seems to be two session players; nowhere is it really featured, and often it's drowned in the mix; again, the album seems unsupported and thin in many areas. It's interesting that they are touring with an entirely different bassist, Derek Jones; perhaps that's why.

There are a couple of excellent tracks on the CD. "Seven Wonders" is poignant and wistful, "Beauty And The Mess" breaks out of the thin sound with a driving, bass-heavy sound, and "House Carpenter" is a great cover of a traditional band.

In the long run, though, This Side suffers from a shallow sophomore slump. There are times where Nickel Creek shows the brilliance they captured on their first CD, but there just aren't enough of them.

Rating: B-

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© 2002 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sugar Hill Records, and is used for informational purposes only.