Top Ten Songs by Nickel Creek

Nickel Creek is a three-piece bluegrass-esque band. Their sound is hard to describe, it is a combination of country, acoustic, Christian, bluegrass, folk, rock and even some Irish undertones. The best way to describe Nickel Creek’s music is amazing. Sara Watkins plays violin with her brother Sean Watkins on guitar and Chris Thile on mandolin. Chris and Sara primarily do vocals. They have been playing together since 1989 and have released three albums: Nickel Creek, This Side and Why Should the Fire Die?

Nickel Creek announced that after seventeen years as a band they are taking an indefinite break according to the web site the break is in order to “preserve the environment we’ve sought so hard to create and to pursue other interests.”
Nickel Creek has an impressive library of songs, some instrumental, that span 17 years of great music and evolution. Picking a top ten is very difficult. As with all “Top Ten GreatestâÂ?¦” lists everyone’s opinion will differ. So here is this writer’s list of Nickel Creek’s ten greatest songs.

1) “The Hand Song” off the album Nickel Creek. This song is beautiful. It combines Sara’s high, soft, sweet voice with intricate and beautiful finger picking on the mandolin and guitar. The sounds combine perfectly to make an amazing song. It’s a song that you can put on repeat and not get bored with. Like many of Nickel Creek’s songs it is a narrative. It tells the story of a young boy from his childhood to his death, the connecting piece throughout the story is the boy hurting his hands. First when he is picking roses for his mother, another when the boy sees a picture of Jesus on the cross with injured hands and finally in Vietnam where the young boy gives his life. “And they knew it was love, it was one they could understand. He was showing his love and that’s how he hurt his hands,” goes part of the chorus. The song manages the feat of being depressing, haunting, uplifting and heart-warming all at the same time.

2) “When You Come Back Down” off the album Nickel Creek. This was Nickel Creek’s first single. It’s an incredibly sweet song and it is a take on relationships that is not often heard. Chris sings it and it is basically a boyfriend telling his girlfriend to travel and do what she wants with her life and that he will wait for her. We so often hear about the girl waiting for the boy that it is both refreshing and sweet to hear the boy to tell the girl to leave and chase her dreams. The singer tells the girl, “When you’re soaring through the air, I’ll be your solid ground. Take every chance you dare, I’ll still be there when you come back down.” He promises the girl that if she falls he will catch her and even says, “I know the sky is calling, Angel let me help you with your wingsâÂ?¦” It is another song you can put on repeat and not grow tired of. This song put Nickel Creek on the map and deservedly so.

3) “The Lighthouse’s Tale” off the album Nickel Creek. Most people would have put this song first on the list. At concerts it’s the song people scream for and erupt over when Chris plays the intro on his mandolin. It’s an extremely depressing tale told from the point of view of a lighthouse. It’s a story about the lighthouse’s keeper. The keeper’s fiancÃ?© dies on a voyage and the keeper soon after joins her by jumping off the lighthouse. Throughout the tale the lighthouse is the constant. At the beginning of the song the lighthouse keeps his lamp lit to warn sailors after the tale has been told the lighthouse says though he is empty he warns the sailors. There’s a deeper level to the song than a tragic love story. The chorus is, “And the waves crashing around me, the sand slips out to sea. And the wind that blows reminds me of what has been and what can never be.” It paints an image of an old, wind-blown, faded lighthouse, white with red stripes, on the coast by a rocky shore. The listener can see it and they can sense the wisdom of this tower. It’s a wonderfully conceived and gorgeously executed song from the story to the music.

4) “Beauty and the Mess” off the album This Side. This is a more upbeat, very bluegrass inspired song. Sara’s voice combines with the mandolin and guitar to make this song great. It is about being famous and not really letting people in. The sound matches the mood sounding complacent yet claustrophobic. Sara sings about the difficulties of letting other people in, “I hide in the spotlight, it’s a great disguise.” Sara, Chris and Sean harmonize on the chorus saying that all the audience gets out of them is what they get out of the show, “The rest is mine, I guess, the beauty and the mess to hide.” It’s a great song because it reminds people that Nickel Creek is made of people with feelings and emotions. That though the fans watch them on the stage the fans aren’t that different. We tend to idolize and make the people we’re fans of perfect in our minds. The song is a reminder that the people we watch on stage and listen to at home are imperfect, like us.

5) “The Fox” off the album Nickel Creek. This is reminiscent of an Irish folk song. It’s extremely upbeat, with a lot of upstrokes and fast finger picking. It’s a story about a fox coming into town to feed on the local geese. It’s just a fun song to dance to and listen to. Like most folk songs it is repetitive and fast. The rhythm is helped by the words, the “-o” sound is repeated throughout the song, “The fox is on the town-o, town-oâÂ?¦” and so forth. It really shows off Nickel Creek’s skill as musicians and pays homage to their roots in bluegrass and country.

6) “Somebody More Like You” off the album Why Should the Fire Die? This song has an interesting construction. The guitar is wonderful. It is, at its base, a break-up song. It’s not as bitter as most break-up songs, but some lines are more searing than others. The singer is reminiscing about the relationship and how good it was, but how suddenly it ended. He tells the girl, “I hope you find somebody more like you.”

7) “Ode to a Butterfly” off the album Nickel Creek. This is an instrumental track that really shows off Nickel Creek’s talent as a band and Sara, Chris and Sean’s talents as individual musicians. It is a very bluegrass song. Like a butterfly it is fast, not only the tempo, but also the changes and transitions, it’s amazing how quickly their hands can move over their instruments. It also seems to flit as a butterfly would. It is a wonderful song to dance to, tap your foot to or just enjoy as a wonderful piece of music.

8) “Helena” off the album Why Should the Fire Die? The honesty in this song is incredible. Nickel Creek’s lyrics all tend to be honest, even when it’s about emotions human beings aren’t proud of. Helena is a relationship falling apart. The music builds with the mood of the song, “‘Helena’ builds massively because this character deteriorates before your eyes” says Nickel Creek member Chris Thile. We see a character go from asking for forgiveness, to anger, to a sort of denial, then finally to moving on in a sense. It’s a raw, extremely human song and it is simply a great song.

9) “Seven Wonders” off the album This Side. This is a slow, beautiful song dealing in a sense with the temporary sense of life. “Seven wonders crowed the man, knowing six are gone and how the great illusion lingers on,” sings Sara in the chorus. She opens describing a man “powerless to leash the hands of time.” It is simple, but not basic. There is a difference in music that is simple and music that is just unimaginative or easy. The music captures a sense of futility, but at the same time a sense of beauty.

10) “House Carpenter” off the album This Side. This is another narrative. It is slow and haunting. It tells the story of a sailor who returns home to find the woman he loves married to a house carpenter. He convinces the woman to leave her husband and child to come away with him. On the ship she has a change of heart and begins to cry, “A curse, a curse to the sailor she cried, a curse, a curse she swore. You robbed me of the darling little babe that I shall never see no more.” Like all good love ballads it ends in death. The music once again is the simple, beautiful sound that Nickel Creek has perfected-simplicity without mediocrity. It is a great song because the story, sad as it is, is touching and the music enhances it. It is a complete package.

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