“My God it’s good to see you...”
That first line from Nickel Creek’s seventh album Celebrants likely prophesies the warm response awaiting the Americana bluegrass group’s first all-new release in nine years.
While the Grammy winning trio of singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalists Sara Watkins (fiddle), Sean Watkins (guitar), and Chris Thile (mandolin) had sporadically collaborated since 2014’s A Dotted Line, a 2020 interview pegged to the twentieth anniversary of Nickel Creek’s debut album ignited a spark. “It was fun to have a reason to wax nostalgic about some stuff that we'd done,” says Thile. “And then when we got together, it was just so clear, ‘Oh, yeah, we've got some new music to make.’"
They certainly did. The long layoff yielded a bounty of 18 interconnected songs written collectively during a creative retreat in Santa Barbara in early 2021. The tracks form a mosaic that is beautiful from a distance, but each tile also tells its own story.
“We wanted it to be our most ambitious album,” says Sean Watkins, “ meaning spending the time that we've never had to fully explore our musical ideas and take them as far as we possibly can.” To assist in bringing that vision to fruition the Watkins siblings and Thile decamped to RCA Studio A in Nashville with trusted producer Eric Valentine (Queens of the Stone Age, Grace Potter, Weezer) and recruited Grammy-winning producer-songwriter Mike Elizondo (Fiona Apple, Eminem, Joy Oladokun) to hold down bass duties and serve as another set of ears.
The result is perhaps the most audacious yet accessible release of the Grammy-winning trio’s 34-year career. The wide-ranging soundscapes include the melodic pop elation of “Celebrants,” the gauzy, hazy harmonic swirls of “The Meadow,” the gentle balladry of “Holding Pattern,” and the yearning “Failure Isn’t Forever,” which brightly bends towards hope. The entire enterprise is, naturally, shot through with the trio’s virtuosic picking and shiver-inducing harmonies. The lyrics —addressing love, friendship, time, and the universal travails of travel—combine the poetic and plain-spoken, hitting a sweet spot of ethereal and relatable as bridges are built, crossed, burned, and rebuilt.