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Sara Watkins “Sun Midnight Sun” Takes a Quantum Leap Forward

Nonesuch Records (2012)

Since the breakup of platinum-selling “newgrass” band Nickel Creek, it seems mandolin player Chris Thile has hogged the spotlight with his new band Punch Brothers. Meanwhile, fiddle player Sara Watkins quietly put out her own, self-titled solo record a couple of years ago, staying well within the bounds of country/bluegrass and drawing little attention.

Watkins’ sophomore album Sun Midnight Sun may change all that.

Within the first few seconds of the opening instrumental track, I knew this record was something different, something special. It begins with a single violin with a bit of distortion added, and descends into this rhythmic, multiple-part cacophony that is creative, dark and beautiful all at once. In the tracks that follow, it becomes apparent that this is a quantum leap beyond Watkins’ previous work. Sun Midnight Sun is far more than a bluegrass album; it is indie/alternative music rooted in Americana, rather than in pop or rock. The result is a highly creative collection of music that grabs your attention and holds it for the duration.

Sara Watkins also shines as a vocalist here; the soft, sweet, unassuming voice we heard in her self-titled record has expanded into a voice with strength, passion and range, at different moments reminiscent of Dia Frampton and Leigh Nash. As if to reinforce this new direction, Watkins’ friend Fiona Apple makes a guest appearance, harmonizing with Watkins on a manic cover of Everly Brothers’ “You’re the One I Love.”

This isn’t to say that Watkins has left her roots—not in the least. Open-minded country/bluegrass fans will find plenty to be happy about, especially when Watkins picks up her fiddle. Like I said, this music is rooted in Americana. It’s just that it doesn’t stay in the ruts; with the help of producer Blake Mills of Simon Dawes, Watkins builds on that foundation and creates something new and interesting out of it. It’s a sound that really is better heard than described.

All told, Sara Watkins has completely outdone herself with Sun Midnight Sun, and while there probably is nothing competitive going on, she’s effectively giving former bandmate Chris Thile a run for his money. This is a whole new thing, and a quantum leap forward. Get the record and listen to it. I’m serious.

 

ALBUM RATING: 5 Stars (out of five)


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About the Author

on MUSIC IS MY OXYGEN WEEKLY.

Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Kim Phelps found her inspiration and love for music listening to local bands play in the coffeehouses around town. She soon found her own voice as a singer-songwriter, and eventually began playing her own gigs in the coffee shops. Her personal influences include Ani DiFranco, Indigo Girls, Ingrid Michaelson and Cat Power, but as an indie musician herself, she has an affinity for any band or artist who pursues creative freedom on the outskirts of the music industry. As our Indie correspondent, Kim makes a point of highlighting up-and-coming independent acts who are creating a buzz and building an audience. When she's not blogging for us or playing in the coffee shops, Kim works as a barista herself to help pay the bills. She currently lives in Seattle, Washington.

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Posted in: Indie/Alternative Music


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