Nickel Creek, Secret Sisters | Riviera Theatre | Folk & Country | Chicago Reader
This is a past event.
When: Fri., May 9, 8 p.m. 2014
Price: sold out
After Nickel Creek went on hiatus seven years ago, each member took a separate path. But following a few casual live reunions over the past year, they’ve formally returned to action with a strong new album, A Dotted Line (Nonesuch), that also celebrates the band’s 25th anniversary. Though the trio began as precocious preteens playing bluegrass, over the years they built a much broader sound atop a foundation of rural music. In the years since Nickel Creek’s hiatus, mandolinist Chris Thile has made a stunning Bach recording and developed a sort of dizzying prog bluegrass with the Punch Brothers; fiddler Sara Watkins has forged a sharp but gentle strain of folk-pop on two solo albums; and guitarist Sean Watkins has worked mostly as a sideman, including with the Haden Triplets. They’ve fallen back together naturally, pushing against the limitations of bluegrass like they used to: the new album includes virtuosic instrumental breakdowns (“Elsie,” “Elephant in the Corn”), emotional breakup songs (“Christmas Eve,” “Destination”), and a dubious jam-band rock number (“Hayloft,” a cover of a tune by Canadian band Mother Mother). Sean Watkins takes a swipe at end-times prophets on “21st of May,” and Thile’s “Love of Mine” reflects on the way being in love can help you care more for yourself. The trio’s vocal harmonies remain a focal point, adding soulful, coloristic crescendos to the lead singer’s melody. None of Nickel Creek’s members has been hurting for fulfilling work without the band, so this reunion looks less like a cash grab and more like three old colleagues pulled together by mutual creative gravity. They all temper their own interests in favor of an ensemble approach, but it’s still possible to hear what they’ve been up to in their years apart. —Peter Margasak

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