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Sean Watkins
Blinders On

Review By Steven Stone
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CD Number: Sugarhill Records SUG-CD-3988 

 

  Although Chris Thile may be the member of Nickel Creek who gets the most press, he's not its only talent. Both Sean and Sara Watkins pull equal musical weight. Sean Watkins just released his third solo CD, Blinders On. His first album, Let It Fall, focused on his prodigious instrumental talents. His second, 26 Miles, displayed his uniquely plaintive songwriting style. On his new release, Blinders On, he demonstrates that his songwriting skills have expanded well past the physical limitations of Nickel Creek's acoustic format.

From the opening electronic burbles Blinders On seems determined to demonstrate Watkins' total mastery of the pop music medium. This is thoroughly modern music, full of lyrical irony, populated by personal dragons and dreams. Instead of moon/June rhymes Watkins delivers epic images. He also replaces simple 1-4-5 melodic progressions with music that doesn't so much move forward as it undulates in convoluted yet musically logical patterns. Yet with titles such as “Starve Them To Death” don't expect light pop confections. This young man has more on his mind than merely a slap and tickle.

Sean Watkins played acoustic and electric guitars, bass, organ, piano, programmed the drum machines and synthesizers, and handled all the lead vocals on Blinders On. Humble enough not to do everything himself, his sister Sara played fiddle and added harmony vocals, Gabe Witcher also played fiddle, Duncan Moore and Glenn Kotch played drums, Byron House and Mark Schatz played acoustic bass, Rashad Eggleston played cello, and Benmont Tench played piano, Hammond B3 and harmonium. Watkins also produced Blinders On. Recorded over two years in five different studios with the help of engineers Scott Fritz and Peter Sprague and mastered by Ray Kennedy at Room & Board Studios, Blinders On sounds impressive. Complex musical passages remain clear and even the most densely packed orchestrations remain uncompressed. Blinders On's myriad of electronic and non-acoustic effects never sound gimmicky or forced.

Some pop albums bound up and knock you over like an overly affectionate 90 lb sheepdog. Blinders On works its way under your skin, insidiously like a hankering for that new blend of organic coffee you tried last Saturday. After a couple of days it's hard not to go back for another listen, and then another. If you listen a couple of times you may even leave the disc on your CD player long enough to hear the hidden bonus track of Watkins and Rashad Eggleston playing “ Cherokee Shuffle.” Too bad the term masterpiece is so overused that it has lost its meaning. But still, Blinders On is a masterpiece, simple as that.

 

 

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