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Sara Watkins
Sara Watkins
Review By Steven Stone

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  For most of the last two decades 27-year-old Sara Watkins has been 1/3 of the band Nickel Creek. When the band went on indefinite hiatus two years ago she began to work on a solo album. Anyone expecting Sara Watkins' CD to sound like Nickel Creek lite will be in for quite a surprise. Instead of following her bandmates Chris Thile and Sean Watkins into the world of edgy acoustic music, Sara took several steps back to explore more traditional sounds.

Watkins wrote seven of the fourteen songs on the CD. The other tunes include a wide swath of writers, such as John Hartford, Norman Blake, Tom Waits, and Jimmie Rodgers. Watkins' own songs display a mature melodic sense combined with a penchant for detailed storytelling. Even the most AAA-radio-friendly cut, a love song, "All This Time," goes way past the "moon, June, spoon" school of lyrical invention. She's created adult music that merges traditional stringband instrumental textures with modern-day narratives. Even Watkins' covers of older material, such as Jimmie Rodgers'  "Any Old Time" balance a nostalgic moodiness with a contemporary neo-traditional focus. 

Sonically Sara Watkins' new album sounds far more like Uncle Earl than Nickel Creek, due in large part to John Paul Jones' production. Yes, he's THAT John Paul Jones Led Zep's bassist. But during the past couple of years Jones has immersed himself in acoustic and Americana music. Jones has become somewhat of a fixture at the larger bluegrass festivals where he's jammed with almost every A-list bluegrass player you could name. He also produced the all-woman old-timey band Uncle Earl, and played in the acoustic all-star group, The Mutual Admiration Society. Jones' production chops give Watkins' album a slick yet relaxed sound so her vocals stand out even when surrounded by super sidemen. Joined by Chris Eldridge, David Rawlings, and Sean Watkins on guitars, BenmontTench on keyboards, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, and Jones playing bass and other assorted instruments, Watkins performs all the lead vocals and solo fiddle duties.

Although Sara Watkins' solo CD doesn't break new musical ground or dare to go where no musician has gone before, she serves up a fine assortment of modern Americana that should find a home in many folk fans' collections.

 

 

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