For a band named Nickel Creek, this bluegrass trio has a penchant for doing things in nine-year cycles.
After a nine-year break and a further nine years since their last album, Nickel Creek is back with their fifth studio album, “Celebrants,” released on Friday, March 24 via Repair Records and Thirty Tigers.
The band comprises mandolin player and former host of American Public Media’s “Live From Here,” Chris Thile, who also plays in Punch Brothers, and siblings Sara Watkins on fiddle and guitarist Sean Watkins.
They have been together since the 90s and achieved success in the early 2000s with a handful of Grammy nominations and their album “This Side” winning Best Contemporary Folk Album in 2002.
“Celebrants” was recorded at RCA Studio A in Nashville, Tennessee and produced by their longtime collaborator Eric Valentine. After such a long break between releases, Nickel Creek rewards fans with an epic 18-song journey that showcases the band’s growth over the years and proves that good things are worth waiting for.
The album enchants listeners with its opening title track, which builds up slowly before hooking them with the relatable folk that first made the band so famous 20 years ago.
The harmonies on “Strangers” are delightful and have a warm California country pop vibe, making it irresistible.
Sara Watkins takes over the vocals for “Thinnest Wall,” It is one of the strongest performances on the album, jam-packed with gems spanning nearly an hour.
However, it’s only second to her fiddle and vocal opening for “Where The Long Line Leads.” That track is wide open and fun with the message, “We only have a short time, so make it a big one.”
The instrumental “Going Out...” captures the essence of the band’s live jamming and the sheer delight that Thile gets from playing the mandolin.
The simple finger-snapping rhythm of “Holding Pattern” is so enrapturing that it’s almost easy to miss the fingerpicking from Sean Watkins interplaying with Thile’s mandolin.
Both “Goddamned Saint” and “Stone’s Throw” have a more raucous feel than some of the quieter moments, like “Goddamned Saint (Reprise),” and “Hollywood Ending” has a ’70s folk vibe with a little more richness to match the modern times.
I am enamored at how Nickel Creek can blend bluegrass, folk, rock, and pop, and then a track like “New Blood” reminds me that these are three incredibly talented performers. When the trio hits the harmonies on the third chorus, they are running on all cylinders.
The album closes with the sweet and uplifting “Failure Isn’t Forever,” which has some of the best fiddle playing on the album, with Sara Watkins saving the best for last.
At this pace of churning out an award-winning album every decade or so, Nickel Creek is going to have a bright future ahead.