Mutual Admiration Society Review

Mutual Admiration Society
“Mutual Admiration Society”
Sugar Hill Records

Following the demise of Toad the Wet Sprocket, frontman Glen Phillips embarked on a low-key solo career, recording and releasing one full-length album (2001’s “Abulum”) and a live collection.

Meanwhile, quasi-bluegrass/country trio Nickel Creek was hard at work on a career of its own. The band, featuring siblings Sean and Sara Watkins (on guitar and violin respectively) and mandolin player Chris Thile, had released a kid’s album (“Little Cowpoke”) in 1998 while the members themselves were kids. Now older, the trio were venturing into the mainstream, releasing a self-titled “debut” in 2000.

Through constant touring, Phillips’ and Nickel Creek’s paths crossed, and the group toured together forming a little mutual admiration society. Pulling inspiration from one another, the group headed into the studio in 2000 and recorded an album in six days.

And then … nothing.

Months went by, then years. And, what came to be known as the Mutual Admiration Society disc, became a sort of holy grail to fans of the parties involved. Rumor has it Phillips was hard at work with his solo material the following year and then busy with a Toad reunion, a tour and supposed album that eventually fell through.

Meanwhile, Nickel Creek was beginning to gain momentum on its own, touring successfully and eventually releasing a second album, 2002’s “This Side,” and the band’s label Sugarhill Records felt the release of the “MAS” disc would derail said momentum.

Until now.

With little fanfare, the Mutual Admiration Society disc is finally seeing the light of day. But does it really live up to the legend that has grown around it?

It depends on your viewpoint. Fans of Phillips will find great joy in the release as it’s essentially a Glen Phillips solo album with Nickel Creek backing him up. There was little done in terms of production with the album, so at times the vocals drown out most of the instrumentation in the background.

Featuring eight original compositions and a handful of covers, the disc itself is fully imbedded in the mellow side of the spectrum. The group offers up a nice cover of Toad’s “Windmills,” which sounds even more beautiful with Sara Watkins’ violin accompaniment; the album closes with a cover of Harry Nillson’s “Think About Your Troubles,” a song covered by many folk artists nowadays. The strongest cover on the disc, a version of Jon Brion’s “Trouble,” is pretty haunting in its own right, but pales in comparison to versions Nickel Creek offer up on their own on tour with Sara on vocals.

Overall, this isn’t a bad release per say, but it really feels like it was just put out to get it out of the way. The production is shoddy at times, and there was little put into the packaging and marketing of the disc. Fans of Toad, Phillips and Nickel Creek will enjoy this most, though fans of Nickel Creek in particular may feel a little left out.