Reviews Zone

Watkins Family Hour: Brother Sister (Family Hour Records/Thirty Tigers) 8th May 2020



5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)



Watkins Family Hour is an award-winning duo of siblings Sara and Sean Watkins, who many will know from the acclaimed Nikel Creek.

Watkins Family Hour dropped their new album “Brother Sister” today, only their second album in an 18-year history, their first for five years.

Unlike their self-titled 2015 debut which was all covers, this one shines the spotlight on not only the pair’s musical talents as gifted instrumentalists and singers, but also as songwriters.

There are seven originals here and three new covers. Courtney Hartman and Taylor Ashton’s “Neighborhood Name,” Warren Zevon’s “Accidentally Like A Martyr” and Charley Jordan’s “Keep It Clean,”.

The set was produced by Mike Viola, who also co-writes two songs with Sean and Sara, and contributes piano and synth’.

In addition to Watkins Family Hour, Sara and Sean’s acclaimed projects include I’m With Her (Sara), Fiction Family and supergroup Works Progress Administration (Sean), and the Grammy-winning Nickel Creek with their friend and long-time collaborator Chris Thile, as well as their successful individual careers.

So for those new to Sara and Sean’s work, you could say they have many miles on the clock and have served their apprenticeship, therefore able to inject all of that experience and versatility into this absolute sparking gem of a recording project. An obvious labour of love.

Opener “The Cure” is just lovely. Shared vocals and some sweet vocal harmonies on a swaying tempo. Fine song. First of the covers, “Neighborhood Name”, Sarah kicks off the vocal on a slower hill-country flavoured song, Sean adding backup vocals and Sarah’s melancholic fiddle licks.

The BPM picks up on “Just Another Reason”, Sean on lead vocal, and a chugging rhythm on a more contemporary style folk-pop song, where Sarah takes up the main vocal, part way through the track. Great hook.

Pretty instrumental “Snow Tunnel” leads the mind back to the glory days of Nickel Creek, before “Lafayette”, a real standout of the set, co-written by Sean and Sarah, with a 70s West Coast sound. The ‘less is more’ production values allows this song to breathe and stand on its own two feet.

Then we get the gloriously infectious and politically critical “Fake Bridge, Real Gun”, with a wonderfully liberated lead vocal from Sara. Great song writing from Sean and Sarah. Killer violin work too, from Sarah.

Second non-vocal track is “Miles of Desert Sand”, which has a Celtic reel feel to it.  Then the rousing two minute and 13 second, third instrumental of the record, “Bella And Ivan”. Penned about a pair of playful dogs. Penultimate cut, Warren Zevon’s “Accidentally Like A Martyr”, is a real winner. Sarah’s clever brush strokes on the fiddle add value.

Charley Jordan’s vintage country-blues standard “Keep It Clean” closes proceedings with a sassy and floor-filling rendition of this fun, good old knees-up tune from the 1930s. Would love to hear ‘em do this live at their 18th year residency at L.A.’s Largo. Here, David Garza, Gaby Moreno, and John C. Reilly contribute to the vocals.

The whole thing has a real intimacy about it – Sean’s ‘no fat’ acoustic guitar work and Sara’s sublime and colourful fiddle parts are as they would be on stage, and no over-egging in the name of “production”. There’s a warmth that’s hard to capture in words; you gotta hear it and feel it.

I think that’s the thing… This is all about how this music makes us feel. There’s chemistry in bucket loads and a lot of that comes from this being siblings and blood. But family aside, this is one triumphant “difficult second album” – a fine example of making music for the sheer joy of doing so.  Thankyou both…

  • UK Tour 2020: Sat 22nd Aug – Devon, Beautiful Days Festival, Sun 23rd Aug – Dorset, Purbeck Valley Folk Festival, Tues 25th Aug – Edinburgh International Festival, Spiegel tent, Weds 26th & Thurs 27th Aug – London, St. Pancras Old Church.


By Simon Redley



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