Family Hour Records [Release date 24.07.15]

With Nickel Creek seemingly back on ice, Sara and Sean Watkins have gone back to one of their favourite live formats for their latest release.

The Watkins Family Hour brings to record their long standing unscripted monthly bash at L.A.’s Largo nightclub – a venue which, with a never ending roster of guests, has been both a testing ground for new material and a vehicle for like-minded musicians to cover favourite numbers.  Recent guests have included the likes of Jackson Browne and Booker T.

The album, recorded live in the studio over three days, captures the essence of the shows featuring Fiona Apple – who often joins them live – and regulars drummer Don Heffington, pedal steel and dobro player Greg Leisz, bassist Sebastian Steinberg, and keyboardist Benmont Tench.

An all-covers album, it’s naturally steeped in bluegrass/country but also includes strong country blues elements.  Amongst the more traditional songs are versions of Lindsey Buckingham’s ‘Steal Your Heart Away’, Dylan’s ‘Going Going Gone’, and Grateful Dead’s ‘Brokedown Palace’, all of which are given rootsy workouts.

Lead vocal duties are taken by Sara on four numbers, Sean on a couple and the band members, including Apple, one each.  In truth, it’s a mixed bag.  It opens on a high note with ‘Feelin’ Good Again’ on which Sara sounds like a countrified Suzanne Vega, and Sean’s plaintive take on ‘Going Going Gone’ is another highlight.

But don’t mistake this for Watkins’ album it’s more of a collective brigaded under their name, and while impeccably performed will appeal most to those with more than a cross over appreciation of the genre.  ***

Review by Pete Whalley

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