While it’s easy to brand everything that Nickel Creek do with a country-tinged label, the reality is that their choice of instrumentation is chiefly responsible (almost to a deceiving degree) for that temptation. While “When in Rome” carries a wheezing barnyard rhythm, the sensibility of the song-writing here (and indeed throughout Why Should the Fire Die?) combined with the inventive use of an acoustic guitar as a replacement for drums makes it anything but.
Though songs such as “Scotch And Chocolate” may let down that argument somewhat, serving as mere rip-roaring showcases for the trio’s technical ability, the likes of “Eveline” are dazzlingly crafted compositions. Accordingly, a great deal of the album’s warmth comes from such melodic enterprising, the soothingly fluent “Anthony” sounding like a cross between Gillian Welsh and Brian Wilson. While the taking of turns between Sean and Sarah Watkins’ vocals is clearly one of the group’s strong points, the moment they combine provides the real chemistry, their absorbing harmonies a clear sum for success.
However, it’s a feature that’s arguably underused on Why Should the Fire Die?, and the diversity of the songs themselves can at times works slightly against the momentum, such as when the ethereal, sea-faring instrumental “First And Last Waltz” flows into what sounds like mainstream rock geared into the acoustic variety.
Ultimately, in terms of quality, Why Should the Fire Die? is surely in with a shout of making many top 20 lists of the year’s finest releases, but the presence of a countrified element is what may decide if it is worthy of investigation for most listeners straight off the bat.