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Watkins Family Hour

Watkins Family Hour – 2015 (Watkins Family Hour/Thirty Tigers)

Reviewed by Bill Caruthers

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"Watkins Family Hour" is an immensely entertaining new release from siblings Sean and Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek fame) and their musical compadres, collectively known as the Watkins Family Hour. Esteemed participants include vocalist Fiona Apple, Benmont Tench on keyboards, Don Heffington on drums, Greg Leisz on Dobro and pedal steel and Sebastian Steinberg on drums. The result is a refreshing romp with all of the participants taking a turn at lead vocals at least once.

Stemming from a one-a-month residency at the Largo Pub in Los Angeles by the Watkins and friends, the record was recorded over a three-day period by Sheldon Gomberg, capturing them at their nonchalant best.

With writers including Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Harlan Howard, Lindsey Buckingham, Robert Earl Keen and Roger Miller, this all-covers affair is a fast-moving and memory-evoking trip through musical history with well-known singles, deep album cut and an animated Disney tune given equal sway.

Standouts are "Brokedown Palace," a Grateful Dead classic helmed by Sara, "Not in Nottingham" (the first single) sung by Sean, and a low down, growling of an old Skeeter Davis tune, "Where I Ought To Be," by Fiona Apple.

Sara Watkins' clear, evocative voice is on cuts "Early Morning Rain," "Feelin' Good Again," "Hop High" and "Steal Your Heart Away," and there are more than a few vocal surprises from the rest of the crew as well. Standout among these is "King of the 12 Oz. Bottles" by drummer Heffington.

With expert musicianship throughout and nods to some of the greatest songwriters in country and pop history, this CD is like a box of assorted chocolates with a surprise in every bite. There is something for everyone, unless you don't like chocolate.