When you heard about Nickel Creek prior to their break up most of the focus was on mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile. Although Sean Watkins’ guitar work also collected a following. In fact, Watkins and Thile have had similar solo success. Since they parted ways, Thile has garnered praise with the Punch Brothers and Sean Watkins has received similar accolades with Fiction Family. Still you can’t make a wheel with just spokes. You need a hub to get it rolling. The hub of Nickel Creek was clearly Sean’s sibling and fiddle player Sara Watkins. Chris and Sean were flash and athleticism. Sara was the class and elegance of the group and made their sound cohesive. Without question she has always shown a mastery of the fiddle. However, she was always quiet and in the background until she sang in that smooth and calming voice. It is her voice that gets overlooked. I remember a late night session at Merlefest when she broke into a beautiful hymn and I swear my heart stopped beating it was so powerful.
In making her first solo release she asked a few friends to help. Of course her brother and Thile showed up. For producer John Paul Jones, bassist for Led Zeppelin, volunteered. She could have stopped there, but for good measure she invited other Friends to join. The duo of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings pay a visit, as do Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, Elvis Costello drummer Pete Thomas, Tim O’Brien, Punch Brothers’ Chris Eldridge and Ronnie McCoury. Sara also demonstrates the breadth of her talent by writing 8 of the 14 songs included in the final product. You don’t have to be a fan of Bluegrass or New Grass or any other kind of Grass to appreciate this album. The word of the day is elegant. For a definition buy the album.
This review also appears on Twangville
About the author: Chip and his family live in Birmingham, AL. Roll Tide!