CD Review of Fiction Family by Fiction Family
Fiction Family: Fiction Family
Recommended if you like
Nickel Creek, Switchfoot,
The Wood Brothers
Label
ATO
Fiction Family: Fiction Family

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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T
hey aren’t quite a supergroup, but Fiction Family – the name for the duo formed by Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins and Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman – is certainly one of the more intriguing side projects to come down the pike in some time; think of them as a paler, more staid version of Gnarls Barkley, and you’re somewhere in the neighborhood.

If only the music was as adventurous as it looked on paper. Watkins and Foreman say they wrote and recorded Fiction Family without giving any real thought to where their collaboration was headed, and it shows in the album’s 12 songs – they’re neither as rambunctiously eclectic as Nickel Creek nor as polished as Switchfoot, meeting somewhere in a pale beige middle ground full of one mid-tempo, acoustic-based track after another.

Both Watkins and Foreman are talented musicians, and it bears mentioning that nothing here is terrible. Nickel Creek fans will take comfort in the copious amounts of acoustic stringed instruments (mandolin, 12-string, baritone ukulele, steel guitar), and Switchfoot fans will tune in to hear Foreman’s vocals, and though both camps should enjoy scattered tracks – "Mostly Prove Me Wrong," for instance, sounds like a Nickel Creek B-side – the overriding impression is one of sheer, unrelenting competence. There’s no real dynamic to these songs – the only time Fiction Family veers away from the middle of the road is during a few unexpectedly skronky seconds partway through "Please Don’t Call It Love," and the discordant pileup that finishes "We Ride." Everything else sounds like the work of two buddies without any real urgency or anything to say.

This is disappointing, but not totally surprising. Nickel Creek was one of the most talented bands on the newgrass scene – heck, they basically invented it – but their albums were always inconsistent, and although Foreman has an undeniably lovely voice, Switchfoot’s music has always been more popular than interesting. If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Watkins and Foreman bring so much talent to the table – and they blend so seamlessly – that it isn’t hard to imagine Fiction Family putting together a killer third, fourth, or fifth album, if they manage to stay together that long.

In the meantime, Fiction Family is the first surefire AAA hit of the new year – whatever that’s worth – and if you’re looking for 40 minutes of music that you can leave on repeat during a grey winter day, these songs will fit the bill nicely. Just don’t expect to be moved, or to remember much of what you’ve heard after it’s over.

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