Nickel Creeker finds life way beyond bluegrass

California-born Chris Thile performs with Nickel Creek as though ready to jump out of bluegrass and his own skin. That's triply true of his solo Deceiver. The conceitedness of Alison Krauss and Union Station? Missing. The sentimental traditionalism of Ricky Skaggs? No sobby chops here. The song-bound stylings of Russian-Nashvillians Bering Strait? Absent. Instead Thile, on drums and guitars and keyboards and bass as well as his mandolin, suavely sings 10 flowingly geometric songs that proceed as though bluegrass exists merely as the basis for an expressive offshoot music Thile has made up, although not on the spot. Songs such as "The Wrong Idea" mate symphonic line and vernacular aggressiveness in ways that suggest that Thile, 23, doesn't reject the widespread notion of Fiona Apple as his generation's creative heavyweight.

Elsewhere, he croons and wails to durable reinventions of Southern groove music and guitar rock, always sidestepping the traditional as successfully as he avoids bluegrass proper. Given today's constant displays of numbing neoclassicism, Deceiver is wondrously odd—especially for bluegrass, which boasts its own frequently slick-as-glass ideas about how to depart from roots. Thile just ignores them. "A really long fall onto a really soft bed"—that's how he describes his CD. He can even write accurate press releases.

 
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