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Reviews: Sara Watkins Solo Album

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The Scotsman

Published: 05 April 2009




Sara Watkins

Nonesuch (7559798400), £12.72This is the first album by the Nickel Creek singer, songwriter and fiddle player. Produced by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, and with more than 20 studio guests including the other Creeks, Tim O'Brien and JPJ himself, she moves from Jimmie Rodgers to Tom Waits and really cuts it with her own songs, such as the heartfelt 'All This Time'.

Her fiddle swings, Western style, and intricately slips between the busy bluegrass banjos and mandolins in 'Jefferson', but it's her affectingly authentic voice that makes her such a superb example of the new Americana.

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San Diego Weekly Reader

April 13, 2009


Nickel Creek songwriter/fiddler Sara Watkins has released her debut self-titled solo album (Nonesuch Records), with six new tracks available for preview on her MySpace page. According to Watkins, "It’s an all-star recording start top finish, produced by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones and featuring Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Elvis Costello drummer Pete Thomas, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, and Soul Coughing bassist Sebastian Steinberg."

Her album also features Nickel Creek bandmates Chris Thile and Sean Watkins. Cover songs on the album include tunes by Tom Waits ("Pony"), Jon Brion ("Same Mistakes"), Jimmie Rodgers ("Any Old Time"), and Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub.

So how weird is the John Paul Jones angle? "It’s a polar opposite connection," says local music historian Bart Mendoza, "but Jones has previously worked with another artist with San Diego connections, Diamanda Galás."

Watkins' new group the Scrolls includes her brother Sean, as well as Glen Phillips (Toad the Wet Sprocket), Davy Faragher (Cracker), Benmont Tench (Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers), Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello’s Attractions), Greg Leisz, and Luke Bulla.

Two other members of Nickel Creek, Sean Watkins and Chris Thile (with the Punch Brothers), have also released solo records.

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CD Reviews:

Listening Room: Sara Watkins, Neil Young and more...


Of the Oakland Press


Sara Watkins, “Sara Watkins” (Nonesuch)***

It’s fair, and not at all insulting, to portray Sara Watkins as possibly the next Alison Krauss. Both came from bands in the bluegrass world — Watkins’ Nickel Creek and Krauss’ Union Station — but expanded their reaches with an eclectic group of musical associations, and they each have trademark voices and estimable instrumental skills. And these days, each has a Led Zeppelin patron in tow — Krauss winning Grammy Awards with Robert Plant and now Watkins releasing a solo debut album produced by the group’s John Paul Jones. “Sara Watkins” is directionless in the best possible way; its 14 songs find her exploring a broad stylistic terrain, anchored by her keening and occasionally spectral vocals and her earthy fiddle (along with guitar and ukulele) playing. And while the album represents a fresh start there’s also an intriguing darkness and sense of loss, particularly in the bookend pieces “All This Time,” in which Watkins both celebrates and mourns the recovery from a broken romance, and “Where Will You Be,” which asks a lover some pretty tough questions. In between, Watkins — who wrote six of the tracks — delivers two-step Western swing (Jimmie Rodgers’ “Any Old Time”), a spiritual (“Give Me Jesus”), a prettied rendition of Tom Wait’s “Pony,” a soulful cruise through David Garza’s “Too Much” and a lively, Celtic-flavored instrumental (“Jefferson”). The guest list is impressive, including Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins (her brother) and Chris Thile, Gillian Welch and Dave Rawling, Ronnie McCoury, Elvis Costello’s drummer Pete Thomas and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ keyboardist Benmont Tench. But producer Jones carefully makes sure they’re effective without getting in Watkins’ way, giving her performances plenty of room to shine. And shine she does on an album that vaults her from the talented member of a wellregarded group into a force in her own right.

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Sara Watkins

Sara Watkins may still be best known as the fiddling third of the prodigious trio Nickel Creek, but her solo album draws a solid line between what she has to offer as a solo artist and the work of her former band mates (although both Chris Thile and her brother Sean are all over this disc).

This is hardly a solo album in the traditional sense of the word. Watkins is joined by some of contemporary folk, roots, and bluegrass music's greatest players. Her accompanists on this disc include John Brion, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Ronnie McCoury (Del McCoury Band), Chris Eldridge (Infamous Stringdusters, Punch Brothers) and her former Nickel Creek collaborators Chris Thile and Sean Watkins. She wrote about half the songs herself and pulled the others from traditional folk and gospel songbooks, and a John Brion cover tune.

Watkin's finest performances on this disc come from her original tunes that kick off and cap the disc—"All This Time" (purchase/download) and "Where Will You Be" (purchase/download), respectively. Her original instrumental number "Freiderick" (purchase/download) is playful and memorable. She also delivers an unsurprisingly impressive depiction of Jimmie Rodgers' "Any Old Time" and Tom Waits' "Pony".

While it may be easy to assume this record is as good as it is because of the incredible pool of talent with which Watkins has surrounded herself, doing so would be selling short her creative vision. She may not be the innovative envelope-pusher that Thile has become, nor is she the introverted songwriter embodied by her brother Sean. What Watkins asserts on this, her "solo" debut, is her own artistic integrity. Much like fellow fiddle prodigy Alison Krauss (who produced Nickel Creek's first two albums), Watkins is an expert interpreter of music. This disc displays her impeccable creative judgment and points a direction her anyone with discerning taste would be wise to follow.

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Since an incredibly young age Sara Watkins has been singing and playing fiddle with Grammy Award-winning roots trio Nickel Creek. On April 7th however, Watkins steps out on her own with the release of her self-titled debut solo album.

Watkins has plenty of big name back-up on the album. Not only are there guest appearances from her Nickel Creek bandmates, but Benmont Tench, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, and Greg Leisz all join in the fun. The biggest name may be in the producer's chair, as Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones holds a guiding hand on the record.

Leaning heavily on her roots music background, Watkins has created an album that blends country, bluegrass, and folk music in an undeniably soulful melange. Whether it's the gritty blues groove of "Long Hot Summer", the lilting fun of "Any Old Time", or the pop rock influence of "Too Much", the arrangements never stray far from good, down home music.

Watkins' vocals are not lost amongst the craftsman-like musical arrangements. Her voice is understated, with an adorable twang. The haunting harmonies (with Aoife O'Donovan and Claire Lynch) on "Bygones" are a textbook example.

Among the Watkins originals are a sprinkling of cover songs, originally written by the likes of Norman Blake, Jimmie Rogers, and Tom Waits. Two spirited instrumentals are included as well: the fierce fiddle hoedown "Freiderick" and the stomp-worthy "Jefferson".

A fan of hip hop certainly won't be converted by Sara Watkins, however, if you like your music soulful and close to the earth, this is a record for you.

Best Tracks: "Any Old Time", "Lord Won't You Help Me"

Track listing for Sara Watkins:

All This Time

Long Hot Summer Days

My Friend


Same Mistakes

Any Old Time


Lord Won't You Help Me


Give Me Jesus


Too Much

Will We Go

Where Will You Be

Rating: 8.0/10

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April 7, 2009

Album review: Sara Waktins - Sara Watkins

Unlike her Nickel Creek counterparts who released a number of solo albums while the band was active, Sara Watkins waited until after the band went on hiatus to tackle a solo project. The result is Watkins' self-titled debut produced by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones.

The album delves into some new territory for Watkins. The most unique and possibly the best track on the album is her groovy cover of Davìd Garza's "Too Much." While the changes in her cover of "Same Mistakes" by Jon Brion are minimal, Watkins brings out the country in the song by adding pedal steel guitar and her own southern California charm in the vocal delivery.

While the covers on the album are really strong, the originals are nice too. The standout is the album's final song, "Where Would You Be." The stark arrangement of the song allows Watkins' voice and somber melody to carry the song.

While many of the songs explore a folky, alt-country direction, Watkins returns to her the Nickel Creek roots on the fiddle tunes "Freiderick" and "Jefferson." The tracks could have been taken straight from any Nickel Creek album.

While the vibe of the album isn't focused and cohesive, Sara Watkins' debut album is a strong offering from the new solo artist. The album makes use of Watkins' strongest asset, her voice. It is front and center on all of the tracks with vocals, right where it should be.

Sara Watkins album is out today, April 7 via Nonesuch Records.

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Prepare to have you jaw on the way to the floor with this one.

Sid Smith 2009-03-30

As likely to be listening to Wilco as Willie Nelson, Sara Watkins' eclectic credentials as a member of Nickel Creek were never in doubt.

With that band having disappeared under the radar, she steps out with a confident stride with her debut solo release, preserving those broad tastes and good judgement when it comes to choosing a set.

As producer, Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones ensures there's both fluency and muscularity across the board, consolidating the artistic relationship that began when they toured as part of the Mutual Admiration Society in 2004.

The tenderness of the self-penned My Friend could almost be another instalment of Nickel Creek's Doubting Thomas (from Why Should The Fire Die 2005) with Michael Witcher's sublime dobro articulating that sense of stoic grace in the face of pressure and doubt.

Songs by Tom Waits and relative newcomer David Gazra nestles alongside venerable writers such as Norman Blake and Jimmie Rodgers (the smoochy, pedal-steel kick back of his Any Old Time is a real gem here) underscores that Watkins is working with living, breathing music.

An assured debut that will undoubtedly extend her commercial reach even further, there's an understated approach with no hints of showy grandstanding or cheap-shot appeal. Watkins' time in the spotlight is a triumph with her agile playing and the kind of voice that gives your goosebumps the shivers.

On the moving album closer, her vocals hover above gently murmuring electric guitars, a shimmering, imploring presence. ''When my voice no longer soothes you / Where will we be?'' Prepare to have you jaw on the way to the floor with this one.

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Album Review: Sara Watkins - ‘Sara Watkins’

Posted on April 7, 2009 by Chris

Now, I hear the question coming as you see this post, “Who is Sara Watkins?” Well, I have a simple answer: remember Nickel Creek? She’s the girl — the one who sings in “Reasons Why” and plays the fiddle. Ring any bells? Well, this is the review for her eponymous solo album, Sara Watkins.

My dad has been a huge Nickel Creek fan, so when I discovered their first two CDs last year in our house, I decided to listen to them, and I fell in love with everything. Then I did some research online and found out that they had broken up 2 years previously- a blow to me for sure (I also discovered their 3rd album, the amazing Why Should The Fire Die?, so it wasn’t all bad). My favorite part of Nickel Creek was when Sara sang, so I was very excited to hear that she was making a solo album, especially since the other two members of Nickel Creek have done solo projects: Chris Thile with his various solo albums and exploits, and Sean Watkins (Sara’s brother) forming the duo Fiction Family. It was really Sara’s turn to try her hand at a solo album.

So what kind of album is it? It’s very country-bluegrass, in the vein of Nickel Creek’s first album, Nickel Creek. It also has this relaxed feel, and a kind of throwback vibe, such as on “Any Old Time”. It also just feels effortless and natural, and it’s very calming to listen to. She also has a few instrumentals, “Freiderick” and “Jefferson” where she shows off her fiddle playing, and she is very entertaining. Beyond that, her vocals are very evocative, as usual, and she comes off assured. She obviously knows exactly what kind of music she wants to make, and she makes it well. It’s interesting how well her voice suits these songs, even though she has no twang whatsoever, and her music is much more deserving of the country label than most Nashville acts.

The production and overall mood of this album really enhance everything about it. The quiet dobro on “My Friend” really make it something special, making it sound like a quiet prayer for a friend that’s being overheard by the listener. Sara even shows she can play the ukulele on the cover of Tom Waits’ “Pony”. From what I’ve heard, when she was in Nickel Creek she only wrote one song, “Anthony” from Why Should The Fire Die?, but on this album, 6 of the 12 tracks with vocals were written by Sara. As far as I can tell, she does a fine job at songwriting!

There is one misstep — the song “Too Much”. The song has a nice beat , but Sara stretches her voice in odd ways that come off as annoying and a little immature. Also during “Too Much”, an electric guitar is featured with a glossier production, standing at odds to the rest of the album which has an acoustic feel. However, on the album closer “Where Will You Be”, the relaxed electric guitar fits with the mood exactly and doesn’t detract at all, since it’s more in the background.

Overall, this album really stands out as a cohesive and entertaining album with excellent singing and fiddle playing — a real gem that will probably be overlooked by most people, which is a real shame. It flies by, in a good way, and leaves me wanting more. Here’s hoping she gets another shot at a solo album!

My top 3 tracks:

1. “My Friend”

2. “Any Old Time”

3. “Freiderick”

Grade: A

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Sara Watkins - 'Sara Watkins'

Sara Watkins is a fine fiddler and guitar player—as tenure in Nickel Creek demands—but as a vocalist she might be even more compelling. Her voice is lush, warm and perfectly controlled, and she puts it to good use on her debut solo album. Singing about a lost love whose ghost haunts even the cupboards of her home, she slays on tearjerker “All This Time,” and later she gives Tom Waits’ homesick travelogue “Pony” a fittingly cinematic scope. Producer John Paul Jones (yes, of Led Zeppelin fame) leaves quiet spaces in songs like “My Friend” and “Bygones” that provide an elegantly spare backdrop for Watkins’ voice. She may not quite have the vocal calluses to convey the grit of John Hartford’s “Long Hot Summer Days” or the impish irony to put the necessary wink in Davíd Garza’s “Too Much,” but those are rare misses on an otherwise assured debut.

Rating: 73 (Respectable)

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The Daily Californian

Sara Hayden reviews Sara Watkins' new self-titled album.

By Sara Hayden

Contributing Writer

Monday, April 13, 2009

If Sara Watkins' music has anything, it's spirit of the homegrown variety. Nowhere is this more evident than in her self-titled album, which brings a circle of musical family and friends together in collaboration. She draws part of her inspiration from musicians like Jimmie Rodgers and Jon Brion, as well as her Nickel Creek roots, by peppering her album with traces of bluegrass. The result is a disc that features a compilation of varied genres bound together by energetic intensity and her uniquely-Sara stamp. This is characterized by her wandering voice and the instrumentation that she hand-picked, lending her music a sentimental air.

With sparkling vocals and melodies and sliding strings that hit more notes than a chromatic scale, she guides the listener through an emotional range of dark and light and every imaginable shade of gray in between. While the fiddle of "Bygones" creaks up and down with haunting persistence as though on a crazed teeter-totter, "Same Mistakes" gives us a taste of the bittersweet with simple lyrics: "The light is in between a selfish act and the things you do to keep yourself intact. I could name a few." The guitar and light vocals of "Give Me Jesus" weep a reminisced prayer.

"Too Much" brings a soft-rock edge to her folksy set. Many of the album's songs also have harmonies that feel like the hug of a cozy scarf. Although all the songs on the album share a warm quality, she shines most on her instrumental pieces, especially "Jefferson." This foot-stomper has the stuff of a rollicking good hoedown and some wicked fiddle. It nimbly dances between thematic variations, elevated by casual energy.

With her cache of songwriting and singing, fiddle, ukulele and guitar, Sara Watkins has created a lovely sampling of what her musical talent has to offer.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Sara and JPJ were on Jimmy Fallon last night. Did anyone see it?


(here's the episode)

Here's a Paste Magazine review: (of her album and comments of JPJ)


R B)

Thanks for the video post. I missed the show but, I knew I could count on a Zep fan to post a link. Wow, how cool is it to see JPJ doing his thing. Awesome bass line and tone. Sara Watkins has a great for voice. Great music. I'm digging the rootsy music.

I could hear this song segueing in and out of a middle section of an old-timey version of Nobody's Fault But Mine (also using the original lyrics not zep's).

So will JPJ be part of a touring band? This could be fun.

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  • 2 weeks later...

A Sara Watkins' interview about her collaboration with Jonesy.

Matching in the footsteps of Alison Krauss, who hit pay dirt on a duet album with Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins hooked up with Zep's John Paul Jones for a potential breakout project of her own. The bass player produced Watkins' self-titled solo debut, released last month.


The 27-year-old bluegrass singer and fiddler says that the similarities to the Krauss-Plant project are merely coincidental. Watkins, who will perform at Newport's Southgate House on Saturday, talked about the new record while traveling from a show in Boston to another in Portland, Maine.

Question: Why did you choose Jones to produce your record?

Answer: He kind of chose me actually. We were playing the Cambridge Folk Festival in England, Nickel Creek that is, and he approached me after the set and said, "If you don't let me produce your solo record I'm never gonna speak to you again." I thought he was being really nice and enthusiastic. We kept in touch, and we realized we were both really serious about it and had a lot of the same vision, which was pretty much to let me see my vision.

Q: What do you think he saw in you that made him want to produce you?

A: We played this song called "Short People," this Randy Newman cover. It was a little different than old Nickel Creek stuff, and I think he was intrigued by the difference when I sing Nickel Creek songs versus when I sing other songs. He saw that I was really excited about it.

Q: Were you at all concerned about following the Alison Krauss-Robert Plant record, like it's another pairing of a bluegrass lady singer and a Led Zeppelin dude?

A: You know, I probably would have been had I known that Al and Robert were doing a collaboration, but John and I didn't have any idea that that was happening when we started talking about this, so it's a complete coincidence. John's a really good friend.

Q: You do the Jimmie Rodgers song "Any Old Time" on the record. Are you familiar with the version Alison Krauss and Union Station did for the Jimmie Rodgers tribute Bob Dylan put together a while back?

A: I learned that from Tony Rice, and I think she learned that as well from Tony because Tony did a tour with them, and she sang all those songs that he did. But that's another coincidence. I just kind of decided to do it anyway.

Q:Have you thought about the direction of your career? Are you trying to get away from bluegrass?

A: I've never thought of myself as a bluegrass singer. I definitely come from bluegrass. For people, however, who love bluegrass, they would say this is not a bluegrass record, but people that come from a rock background will hear fiddles and mandolins and say it is. It depends on perspective.

the source

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Seems like that interviewer would have at least taken the time to research the fact that this is far from Jones' first foray into bluegrass/roots oriented music and that he isn't "marching in Plant's footsteps" at all. Of course some of that is clarified in the interview but no mention is made of Jones' work with Uncle Earl or his appearances at Merlefest or Bonnaroo with bands such as the Duhks.

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I am very grateful to both JPJ and RP for introducing me to so many different artists. Some I like and some not so much, but most I would never even heard of if not for the connection with JPJ or RP. I've yet to hear this album, but from the clips I've heard so far I think I'll pick it up.

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  • 2 months later...

WRXP FM 101.9 New York City - Matt Pinfield Show

Recorded: April 2009 (New York)

Length: Part 1 - 9 mins 42 sec

Part 2 - 9 mins 34 secs

Sara is joined live in the studio by her brother and John Paul Jones to discuss her new album released on April 7th and perform two cover songs featured on it, David Garza's 'Too Much' and John Hartford's 'Long Hot Summer Days':

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