Sunday, March 19, 2006

Music, sweet music

So, I got this new album, Blinders On, by Sean Watkins, one third of unlabelable supergroup Nickel Creek. Nickel Creek breaks genre labels, landing somewhere between art rock and acoustic bluegrass if you had to say. Nickel Creek is made up of twenty-somethings, so it's a little early to make comparisons to the greatest bands of all time, but I've been listening to a lot of Beatles albums lately, and the way the Beatles picked up pop and ran with it is the way Nickel Creek has picked up acoustic music and run. Can't wait for the next one.

Blinders On is Watkins' third solo album. If anything, his symphonic pop is closer to the mainstream than Nickel Creek. Again, it's reminiscent of the later Beatles albums. The production is first-rate and multi-layered. Keyboards and drums are welcome additions on many songs. Strings are used to great effect. Watkins' voice is more confident this time out; if I have one persistent nag, it's Watkins singing his own harmony parts on this record. Don't get me wrong, the singing sounds pretty good across the board, but it reminds me of Alanis Morissette's "Ironic" when artists do that.

It's a little strange for me to listen to this album because some of the material appeared in live concerts that are freely available under the band name Watkins Family Hour. I listen more carefully to those tracks because I know the words.

The songs all have their own flavors, though, no two alike. The one that sounds the most bluegrassy of the new ones is a bouncy tune called "No Lighted Windows" about CS Lewis' The Great Divorce. There's a hidden bluegrass instrumental at the end of the album, "Cherokee Shuffle". "Starve Them To Death" and "I'm Sorry" could basically be on commercial radio. Woven throughout are evocative expressions of romance, memory, and things you can't say.

Buy it. Buy it now.

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