This Side, Nickel Creek's sophomore release, finds bandmembers Chris Thile, Sara Watkins, and Sean Watkins out of their teens and into their twenties after playing together for 12 years. The southern California band's self-titled debut received wide critical acclaim for welding jazz, rock, and classical music to a bluegrass base. But This Side solidifies Nickel Creek's position as the single most original and inventive bluegrass band to emerge in the early '00s. Hardcore bluegrass fans wary of experimentation or even progressive bluegrass may scoff at this claim. But, when it comes down to it, the gorgeous, open production by Alison Krauss gives Nickel Creek's guitars, mandolins, and fiddles the space to dance through sparkling and genuine arrangements. Covers of everything from Pavement's rollicking Terror Twilight highlight, "Spit on a Stranger," to Carrie Newcomer's scathing folk "Should've Known Better" to the traditional "House Carpenter" are given elegant and unique twists. Plus, Thile and the Watkins siblings' originals, like the sleepy, subtle "Speak" and the darker "Beauty and the Mess," easily outdo the likes of folk-rockers Dave Matthews and Hootie & the Blowfish, while forging a new style to rejuvenate a genre that has always been a bit of a dark horse. It's decidedly more pop than post-rock-gone-folk outfits like Papa M, David Grubbs, Palace, and Miighty Flashlight, and lacks the rock & roll flash of Ryan Adams. But Nickel Creek's music is endlessly rewarding nonetheless, and accessible to just about everyone.
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AllMusic Review by Charles Spano