Trio keeps pushing bluegrass boundaries

New on CD

August 25, 2005|By Thomas Kintner | Thomas Kintner,HARTFORD COURANT

The young trio Nickel Creek has been hailed as the torchbearer for modern bluegrass, even as its members have claimed the band is not looking to be the genre's new face. The Grammy-winning act reinforces its assertion musically with the engaging, disparate Why Should the Fire Die?, which plays fast and loose with stylistic boundaries while showcasing the artistic strength and atypical composure that anchors the probing, eclectic tunes.

The group delivers its songs in musical language unencumbered by tradition or commercial restrictions, leaning into rock flavors while packing plenty of melodic atmosphere into the sharp-edged "Best of Luck." Chris Thile stretches his mandolin picking in numerous ways, pushing the exuberant, rumbling pulse of "When in Rome" as expertly as he adds sugary, old-style texture to the group's few unabashed forays into new-school bluegrass, including the homey instrumental "Stumptown."

Gnawing relationships are the thematic core of the set, which ranges from fiddler Sara Watkins' yearning lead vocal on the jazzy, meandering "Anthony" to Thile's sour dispatch of a lover amid the fluttery pulse of "Somebody More Like You." Its abundance of youthful angst gives the disc a restive, wistful overtone, but the steady, exploratory method that roots tunes such as the moody wander "Jealous of the Moon" defines the set in satisfying fashion.

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Nickel Creek

Why Should the Fire Die? (Sugar Hill) ***

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