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Nickel Creek

A Dotted Line – 2014 (Elektra)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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Like those annual warnings predicting it's not a matter of if, but rather when a hurricane will strike some part of the U.S., the possibility of a Nickel Creek reunion was never in doubt. After all, when two of the players (Sara and Sean Watkins) are siblings and the third (the ever nimble Chris Thile) maintains an amiable relationship with the pair, a regrouping would seem somewhat inevitable. Happily though, the prospects are far more pleasant than the dire notice served up by the weather forecasters. Likewise, while this much ballyhooed return of this bluegrass supergroup of sorts does deserve notice, the inevitable result is an album that suggests they never really went away.

In their prime, Nickel Creek represented an infusion of fresh blood into a genre that took its cue from old folk traditions. Then youngsters, they stirred things up with a breezy approach that appeared to meander at will. Fortunately, they maintain that tack on "A Dotted Line," employing the same spunky and spontaneous delivery on songs such as "Destination" and "Hayloft" that they were known for early on. Yet now that they're older, and possibly more reverent, it also finds certain songs bowing to occasional back porch precepts - the rustic "21st of May," the lovely ballad "Elsie" and the upbeat instrumental "Elephant in the Corn," in particular.

Ultimately, those who eagerly anticipated Nickel Creek's return won't be disappointed. Given the minimal instrumentation it takes to pull it together - mostly fiddle, guitar and mandolin - they again do more with less. That partially accounts for their charm, but it's sheer finesse that fills in the rest. Short on extravagance, but bolstered by ample energy and that frisky enthusiasm that's always been their stock in trade, "A Dotted Line" offers the impression that the line from then to now is solidly connected after all.