Artist: Sara Watkins
Album: Young In All The Wrong Ways
Label: New West Records
Release Date: 07/01/2016
Since the release of Sara Watkins’ last solo disc, Sun Midnight Sun in 2012, the famed fiddler, singer and songwriter, reunited with her longtime band Nickel Creek, went on tour, guest-hosted “A Prairie Home Companion,” and parted ways with her manager and record label. A tumultuous period, full of experiences, but also one that led to Watkins crafting perhaps her most personal album yet.
For starters, unlike on her previous solo releases, there are no cover songs here. Instead, Watkins is listed as the writer or co-writer of all 10 tracks. She also plays less fiddle throughout, letting her powerful vocals do most of the talking, like on the album opening title cut, which sets a firm tone.
“I’m going out to see about my own frontier,” Watkins sings. It’s a declaration of freedom, and displays a sense of fearlessness hard-earned by not being too afraid to look back while pressing forward.
Such empowerment pops up again on “One Last Time,” with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James adding harmony vocals to a tale of Watkins telling off a lover. It’s the closest listeners get to progressive bluegrass on the record with bouncing bass and a down tempo bridge.
But James isn’t the album’s only guest. Benmont Tench of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fame brings some Hammond B3 flourish to the rocking “Move Me,” and Crooked Still vocalist Aoife O’Donovan lends her pipes to multiple numbers, including the somber highlight “Invisible.”
Still, it’s Watkins’ show and those expecting a drastic departure from her typical style won’t find it here. She’s an artist with deep roots in traditional sounds. But with Young In All The Wrong Ways, she’s started taking big steps, and excitement abounds for where she’s headed next.
– Michael Cimaomo