Watkins Family Hour — Vol. II
Two decades ago, Sara and Sean Watkins began a 21st century version of an old-timey music show in quite the unlikely place – Los Angeles. The siblings used the monthly shows at the beloved Largo to flesh out new material, honor favorite songwriters and work with a wide variety of musical guests. The nights, dubbed Watkins Family Hour, spawned two albums and hundreds of shows, both in LA and across the country. Now, the pair has released their third record, Vol. II, highlighting more of those cherished songs, shared with some of their favorite collaborators.
Both Watkins are solo artists who also work in larger bands (including Nickel Creek and I’m With Her), so each is adept at sharing the spotlight for the sake of the song. And while 2020’s Brother Sister was a bit more intimate, eschewing many of the guests they’ve worked with, Vol. II refreshes the original intent of the Watkins Family brand. That following-the-song spirit exists from the very first track, a cover of the Zombies’ “The Way I Feel Inside.” Suggested by Benmont Tench years ago, the Watkins nail down one of their live staples with gorgeous harmonies featuring Lucius and topped off with a violin solo from Sara (and, of course, Tench on piano and keys). The Tune-Yards’ “Hypnotized” is also steeped in Watkins lore as a song that sustained them during long travel days. While the original is bouncy and a bit frenetic, the Watkins take on it spirals to a far off point, drawn along by Sara’s voice. It is, indeed, hypnotic.
The collaborations on Vol. II approach a new level when Jackson Browne shows up. The Watkins had toured with Browne a few years back and became big fans of “The Late Show” (from 1974’s Late for the Sky). When the siblings approached Browne to appear on this record, they all quickly agreed on a cover of his tune. Dialing up the melancholy – “Maybe people only ask you how you’re doing/’Cause that’s easier than letting on how little they could care” – while replacing Browne’s excellent slide work with a delicate classical guitar line from David Garza and heartrending vocals from Sara make this 70s staple both old-timey and timeless.
Like the original Watkins Family Hour live shows, guest appearances on Vol. II aren’t for bragging rights – they’re absolutely essential to the siblings’ recreations of each song. Longtime collaborator Fiona Apple (check out their 2015 joint cover of “Brokedown Palace”) continues to prove she can sing absolutely anything, adding City Mouse slink to the Country Mice duo on Stuart Hamblen’s “(Remember Me) I’m the One Who Loves You.” Tench’s additional appearances are (as with everything he does) indispensable, most particularly on “Tennessee Waltz.” But the biggest mark on the record comes courtesy of Madison Cunningham, the guitar ace whose vocal work continues to be underrated and absolutely gorgeous. “Pitseleh,” a sweet, sad cover of an Elliott Smith tune, has Sean taking the lead on vocals, joined by his sister and Gaby Moreno, but it’s Cunningham’s ethereal guitar line that makes this track truly special. And it’s Cunningham’s voice that soars off on its own in album capper “Grief and Praise,” a Glen Phillips-penned modern hymn of sorts that concludes with a chorus of seemingly everyone the Watkins have ever worked with. Sara and Sean are amazingly talented on their own, but their gift of picking the right songs and having the best friends makes Watkins Family Hour something truly special.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Grief and Praise” – if only to get all of those voices in one room…
Vol. II was produced by Tyler Chester, Watkins Family Hour and David Boucher, recorded, engineered and mixed by Boucher and mastered by Eric Boulanger. Additional musicians on the album include Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius (vocals), David Garza (acoustic bass, classical guitar), Benmont Tench (piano, Casio), Sebastian Steinberg (upright bass, background vocals), Griffin Goldsmith (drums, percussion), Madison Cunningham (hi strung Telecaster, vocals), Gaby Moreno (vocals), Tyler Chester (Ace Tone, bass, Rhodes, Mellotron, bass drum, piano, Marxophone, Space Echo upright piano), Jon Brion (electric guitar), Jackson Browne (vocals), Greg Leisz (Weissenborn, Dobro, pedal steel), Willie Watson (vocals), Gabe Witcher (violin), Sierra Hull (mandolin), Fiona Apple (vocals) and Dan Wilson, Glen Phillips, Joey Ryan, Kenneth Pattengale, Ed Helms, Holly Laurent, Greg Hess, Dominique Arciero, Liz Vice, Tom Brosseau and Mike Viola (background vocals).
Go here to order Vol. II (out now): https://kf-merch.com/collections/watkins-family
Check out tour dates here: https://www.watkinsfamilyhour.com/tour