A Blend of the Old and the New
Bluegrass indie trio Nickel Creek made waves from 2000 to 2007 for their tactful approach to the genres of folk, bluegrass and country, over time incorporating sounds of alternative rock and pop into their music to wide appeal. After five albums and a commercially successful year of touring and playing festivals, however, the group announced an indefinite hiatus in favor of pursuing individual projects. So their announcement of a new album and a 2014 tour came as a pleasant surprise to fans of the indie-folk genre, which had since flourished in the late 2000s with the success of outfits like Mumford and Sons and The Decemberists. However, Nickel Creek’s reentry poses an important question: can Nickel Creek readapt to the genre they undoubtedly shaped, and with what success?
On A Dotted Line, the answer to that question is yes. Nickel Creek maintain the instrumental and vocal characteristics that made them stand out in their heyday. But the album also has a fresher, more recent sound that distinguishes it from earlier records like This Side and Why Should the Fire Die?
Granted, the album is more bluegrass than their later releases pre-hiatus, with an occasional rock influence, but there’s a distinct change in the style of the songwriting on A Dotted Line that gives the release a specific sound with the energy that classifies current indie folk. This energy in the vocals and lyrics is matched by the band’s precision in their instrumentation. Nickel Creek celebrate their 25th anniversary this year, and the years of playing together shine on this album. Exceptional tracks include the driving, exciting “Hayloft” and the instrumental “Elsie,” made possible by the expert violin playing of Sara Watkins.
What makes A Dotted Line the band’s best release to date, however, is the warmth of tradition they mix with their old and new styles of songwriting. The record embodies bluegrass in a complex, modern context, carefully toeing the line between old and new. Hopefully A Dotted Line’s success will inspire more creative genius from Nickel Creek, and it won’t be another seven years before they grace the musical world with their exciting, new voices and excellent musicianship.