Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Unlikely Cover of the Week – Nickel Creek "Toxic"

I must admit I get a particular kick out of cover songs that come out of unlikely places. I'm sure I'm not alone. Which is why I'm starting this weekly feature.

For those unfamiliar with Nickel Creek, they are an acoustic bluegrass trio that has enjoyed an unusual amount of mainstream success – thanks to their singles "When You Come Back Down," "The Smoothie Song" and "When In Rome," tunes you will hear played on both country and adult-alternative stations. The band owes a lot of its success to the success of the O Brother Where Are Thou soundtrack, which proved that traditional country music could sell records. Alison Krauss, one of the stars of that soundtrack, produced the band's first major album in 2000.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand … Though I never saw them live (the band went on indefinite hiatus at the end of last year), the three members of Nickel Creek – Chris Thile (mandolin), Sara Watkins (fiddle), and her brother Sean Watkins (guitar) – reportedly put on a memorable show. One way they did that is by putting their own spin on songs that you would never expect to emerge from a mandolin.

I've posted two versions of "Toxic" (yes, the Britney Spears song), which has become a popular Nickel Creek standby but never official recorded. One is lesser sound quality but recorded apparently right after they began playing it at their shows, which can be heard by the genuine delight and surprise expressed by audience members.

The other is better sound quantity, but seems to lack the energy of the lower-quality version. I'm still looking around for the perfect version. If you've found one, drop me a line. Or let me know with a comment.

Toxic (soundboard version)

Toxic (early version)

For good measure, I thought I'd throw up a homemade YouTube video of the band performing the song.

I'll bet you like the song now more than you originally did. It really illustrates the the depth of the band's talent and its versatility. This is a group, after all, that was just as comfortable playing a Bill Monroe tune as one by Radiohead, Pavement or even Jackson Five.

And it just goes to show you. Good music is good music. No matter what the genre. Or the pop song.

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