Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Epiphany #31: Pretenders (to the throne)

Bob went shopping a couple of weeks ago.  On emusic.com.  I got my usual monthly allotment of about 17 bucks, and actually ending up spending a little more (booster pack!).

April's edition, it would seem, is The Month Of The Women, at least in Bob's world.  Not all-female bands, mind you, but groups where a woman is one of the featured vocalists, perhaps the only featured vocalist.  It was easy shopping, quick and dirty.  And after 10 or so minutes of clicking and downloading, I had my new songs, as follows:

The Both (Aimee Mann and Ted Leo)--The Both
Nickel Creek--A Dotted Line
MS MR--Secondhand Rapture

I can't say too much about the first or the third because I only sampled them before purchasing.  Aimee Mann is a favorite of mine, but I think it's fair to say that her songs for the past several CDs, have been stuck in a kind of slow-to-mid-tempo groove, so I'm happy to hear, in snippets, that Leo's presence has given her songs a bit of a punch.

MS MR is one of those oh-well-it's-not-my-money-because-I-pre-spent-it-months-ago kind of risk purchases that you take when you get in the emusic mindset after many years.  It's kind of like Groupon before I gave that up: "We can order something expensive because we've got $50 "free" dollars to spend."  But I digress.

What really smacked me, from the very first powerfully-acoustic chord of "Rest Of My Life," the opening song on A Dotted Line, were two simultaneous thoughts:  1) how much I had missed Nickel Creek without realizing it and 2) what had spawned from Nickel Creek's musical seed in their absence.  And how inferior it is to what Nickel Creek was.

It seems that without Nickel Creek, we wouldn't these quasi-bluegrassy, pseudo-mountain music bands like The Avett Brothers and their British counterpart, Mumford and Sons.  The bands mine the same acoustic-based traditional gold mine that Nickel Creek first (re)discovered, but they don't have the chops to pull off much more than a modern update of the Kingston Trio.

I'll make it simple:  those bands can't play, not like Nickel Creek can play.  They display a rudimentary control of their instruments, but they simply do not have the virtuosity of "The Creek."  Nickel Creek can pull off a completely-original instrumental where each member plays a shimmering lead part, then segue into a cover of a band from a totally-different genre, like Pavement or Mother Mother, and then slip into the flat-picking genius of a Norman Blake or Tony Rice, all without breaking a sweat.  They can go as traditional Christion or as folky or as experimental as they want to.

Admittedly, this is perhaps to their detriment.  There is no single great Nickel Creek CD out there.  They are too prolific in too many styles with too many singers to put together a coherent set where every track is brilliant.  But to hear them together again is to be reminded of what pleasurable musical dilettantes they are, with both depth and precision.  To hear the Avetts or Mumford, by comparison, is to hear Salieri instead of Mozart (at least as characterized in the film Amadeus).  In other words, just the bare bones of it.

3 comments:

troutking said...

I see a Bad Moon Rising in cyberspace for you...

G. B. Miller said...

I've heard a bit of The Both on college radio this week, and I thought it was pretty good. 'Course, most people who know of Aimee Mann only know her from the hit that is killed on commercial radio.

Robert Berman said...

Certainly Nickel Creek is the virtuoso act of the newgrass scene, and will be as long as Thile continues to make time for them. I've also enjoyed Sarah Jarosz' work in the same general area, though she's not as blisteringly fast as Thile can be when the occasion calls for it.