Nickel Creek Why Should The Fire Die?

This American acoustic trio are definitely a big deal south of the border, having sold over 1.5 million units of their last two albums (including the Grammy-winning This Side). Those are near Alison Krauss-style numbers, though Nickel Creek have yet to break through here. The alternating lead vocals of Chris Thile and siblings Sean and Sara Watkins add variety to their sound, while their vocal harmonies are very easy on the ear. The crisp production of Tony Berg and Eric Valentine (Smash Mouth, Queens of the Stone Age) has a pop focus that may not please the folk purists, but the group have clearly set their sights on a wider audience. Thile is their most prolific songwriter, and his co-write with Gary Louris (the Jayhawks) on "Jealous of the Moon” is an album highlight. An attractive cover of Bob Dylan’s "Tomorrow Is a Long Time” and three original instrumentals (all featuring their mandolin, fiddle, guitar and bass line-up) further add to the stylistic diversity. All very pleasant in its Starbucks-friendly fashion, but a mite too polished. Word is that they’re an excellent act live, so chances are these tunes would take on a little more resonance in performance. (Sugar Hill)