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Watkins steps out on his own

Club Passim, Cambridge, Mass., March 1, 2015

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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At the ripe old age of 39, Sean Watkins is doing things a bit differently when it comes to his music. By far the biggest sign is that he is in the midst of his first ever solo headlining tour.

That may seem a bit odd almost after having released four solo albums since 2001.

But when you have your main gig being in the trio Nickel Creek, pus other projects over the years including Fiction Family and Mutual Admirations Society, doing your own thing may end up taking a back seat.

No longer, however. With a bath of songs that Watkins was comfortable with as he said after the show, he felt the time was now to tour.

Watkins' 80-minute show was not of the over the top, overwhelming variety, but then again that was not a big surprise given that the material, for the most part, is a bit softer and subdued than Nickel Creek.

Watkins often relied on his latest, last year's "All I Do Is Lie," for his songs, which veered towards the folky/rootsy vein. Armed with an acoustic guitar in hand, Watkins could go soft and emotionally charged ("For the Sender," a song directly inspired by a story about a woman whose love passes away far too early), while also having a light side ("Reality Calls" from the Fiction Family canon). He played a few songs that could pass for country and Bill Monroe's "The Old House" to cover his bluegrass base.

Watkins received help from Dominique Arciero on backing vocals, Mellotron and occasional acoustic guitar to vary the dynamics a bit. The pleasant sounding, Nashville-based singer also was afforded the chance to sing one of her own songs, "Emily," from a forthcoming disc.

Despite composing a chunk of songs recorded by Nickel Creek, Watkins did overly rely on his main gig. In fact, he only played "21st of May," a song on last year's "A Dotted Line," about the predicted Rapture that never materialized a few years ago, and "Somebody More Like You," which closed out the regular set. The decision to limit the Nickel Creek songs was understandable in the context of changing it up.

Watkins also reached back to play a few cover songs that worked well during the encore - "I Wonder If I Care As Much" by the Everlys and "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome by Dylan on which he fortunately did not do a cloned version of the 1975 song from "Blood on the Tracks." Watkins did them his way, just like his decision to tour. Those are good things.