Sean Watkins Let It Fall

All things that are authentically billed as bluegrass tend to originate from the hill country of Kentucky and its surrounding environment. It is also usually the product of years of dedication to one's time-honoured craft and the necessary paying of dues that comes with the territory. That is until Alison Krauss passed her seal of authenticity along to a youthful quartet, Nickel Creek, hailing from sunny Southern California. Watkins, key flat-picker with Nickel Creek, is joined on this short but breathtaking solo flight by other members of his band - sister Sara (fiddle and harmonies), Chris Thile (mandolin) and some of Nashville's finest to round out the sound, notably Jerry Douglas and Stuart Duncan. These wunderkinds are known for their traditional workouts at blistering speed but on Let It Fall, Watkins demonstrates his considerable breadth and instrumental prowess by exploring areas ranging from the neo-classical "The Birth" to the new age-ish "Cloudbreak" and simply gorgeous instrumentals like "January Second" and "The Orange Autumn Days." Luke Bulla's fiddle on "Ferdinand The Bull" takes a page from Stephane Grappelli's Hot Club, aided by Watkin's own mandolin and Dennis Caplinger's banjo. The disc's standout tune is the title track, featuring the gentle vocals of Glen Phillips (Toad The Wet Sprocket), which features Watkins' lyrical picking while marrying pop to bluegrass to stunning effect. This is primarily an instrumental disc, as Watkins proves his songwriting abilities with nine original tracks (with the exception of one traditional tune). Fans of acoustic guitar of all stripes should meet here. (Sugar Hill)