Acoustic trio Nickel Creek injects its bluegrass with an exhilarating blend of musical versatility, ambitious melodies, and virtuosity that is at times jaw-dropping.

Acoustic trio Nickel Creek injects its bluegrass with an exhilarating blend of musical versatility, ambitious melodies, and virtuosity that is at times jaw-dropping. Made up of multi-instrumentalist Chris Thile and siblings Sean (guitar) and Sara Watkins (fiddle), the trio's newest album opens with Thile's rangey instrumental "Smoothie Song" and leaps right into the Beatles-eque "Spit on a Stranger" without missing a strum. The bluesy "I Should've Known Better," with an intriguing vocal mix, is sonically adventurous, while Sean Watkins' insistent midtempo "This Side," Thile's clever "Green and Gray," and the exuberant "Young" all showcase burgeoning songwriting chops. Sara Watkins' hovering vocal and fiddle lend an ethereal quality to "Seven Wonders," then a punchy vitality to the roiling "Beauty and the Mess."—RW