Nickel Creek (2000) is the first album by Nickel Creek that actually matters. I say that because Nickel Creek formed as a band when they were all incorrigible youths and put out two albums that I’m certain are chock-full of children-singing-like-angels-with-twang sounds, but since they are no longer in print and can’t even be found on Spotify, OH WELL.
So for all intents and purposes, Nickel Creek’s real career began with their self-titled 2000 release.
Nickel Creek is a beautiful, harmonic piece of magic that caresses the eardrums with pixie dust and dreams. Five of the twelve tracks are gorgeous instrumentals, and the seven lyric-filled tunes punch out such magnificent vocal harmonies that a friend of mine once described it as orgasmic (specifically, she was referring to the refrain of “The Lighthouse’s Tale”), and I pretty much agree.
There’s a lot to love about Nickel Creek. I love how the songs (with lyrics especially) form a sort of narrative driven by tragedy that still rejoices in love and in playfulness. I love how instrumental music plays such a heavy role on this album, which isn’t something we saw a lot of in 2000, and is something we see even less of today. I love the absolutely perfect way that the three core instruments of Nickel Creek match each of their vocalists’ singing styles perfectly. I love “The Fox.”
Playful is probably the perfect word for this album. Some tracks (“The Fox,” “Robin and Marian,” “Cukoo’s Nest” “In the House of Tom Bombadil”) are silly and bouncy, they make you want to laugh or dance or sing them to children. Other songs are slightly more mature thematically or musically, but they carry an enigmatic quality to them that is enjoyable and fun (“The Lighthouse’s Tale,” “Out of the Woods,” “When You Come Back Down”); and a couple of songs are so cool and melting and entrancing (“Reasons Why,” “Pastures New,” “Sweet Afton”) that while they may not be playful per se, they are powerful notes that heighten the sense of play in the other tracks.
I have one, and only one, complaint regarding Nickel Creek, and that’s “The Hand Song.” I just don’t like it. I find it whiny and annoying and overly saccharin. But I know that that’s just me, because I know plenty of Nickel Creek fans that love “The Hand Song” as if they were that flower-picking child. Nickel Creek is, at its core, a bluegrass/folk band, and bluegrass/folk music does not shy away from exploring the divine. And I think Nickel Creek does a beautiful job of questioning the Almighty at other places and in other ways (“climb high to the highest rung, to shake fists at the sky,” “can I be used to help others find truth when I’m scared I’ll find proof that it’s a lie?”) but “The Hand Song,” an oddball ode to the love of Christ, just doesn’t do it for me. And I end up hating that song.
Now, to get that bad taste of “The Hand Song” out of our mouths (or maybe just my mouth; if you like that song, then go for), here’s Nickel Creek doing (my favorite song ever of all time maybe) “The Fox”: