Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Sara Watkins

Over the entirety of her 14-track solo debut album, Sara Watkins illustrates an eloquence as a songwriter that reflects her some 20-year career as a member of the Grammy-winning group, Nickel Creek.908presspass.jpg

But after just a few minutes conversing on the phone, it’s apparent that eloquence hasn’t quite translated to interviews.

“I feel like I popped a zit,” Watkins says, when asked how it feels to have a solo album of her own out there.

In almost four years of writing this feature, no one has ever likened producing an album to pimple popping. Score one for originality anyway.

But on some level the description is more than fitting. Watkins’ time with Nickel Creek may have given her a more veteran edge, but her solo career is still very much in its adolescent stages.

That’s why she says that writing music still doesn’t come easily for her. And while she’s no stranger to the late-night TV circuit, having performed on Leno with her Nickel Creek ‘mates Chris Thile and her brother Sean, that’s why she felt some butterflies before singing on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” last Tuesday.

But none of those jitters come across on her self-titled debut released this month. Under the watchful ear of producer, and former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, Watkins has compiled an album highlighted by a bevy of country ballads, like “Same Mistakes” and “Pony” that will make you misty in your whiskey. Those tracks are complemented by a poppy, almost R&B-like “Too Much” that reminds you that Nickel Creek never conformed to any clear genre and states that Sara Watkins isn’t about to either.

“I don’t feel like anyone should have to define themselves,” Watkins says. “I was grateful for the time we had to record the album. That allowed us to experiment freely. I got to fall in love with a part of me that’s new from what I did with Nickel Creek.”

One similarity to those days, however, is the fine fiddle work that fills the album. Dotting the remainder of the album are foot-stomping instrumental tracks “Jefferson” and “Freiderick” that perk up a largely wistful collection of finely crafted music.

At the start, “Long Hot Summer Days” sets the scene with a sultry swing and Southern sensibility that will leave you longing for a trip below the Mason Dixon line. But throughout it all, Watkins’ sweet, syrupy – and occasionally soaring – vocals combine with her entrancing fiddling in a way that will leave you content to close your eyes and simply enjoy the music that meets your ears for the next 45-minutes.

While Nickel Creek remains on indefinite hiatus, Watkins says her solo career is priority number one, though she is involved in a number of other projects. Among those is a new super-group octet dubbed Works Progress Administration, that features Watkins, her brother, noted singer-songwriter Glen Phillips (formerly of Toad The Wet Sprocket), Tom Petty and the Hearbreakers founder Benmont Tench, Luke Bulla, Greg Leisz, Elvis Costello drummer Pete Thomas and Cracker founder Davey Faragher.

But for the foreseeable future, Watkins will be on the road, promoting her album on a tour that rolls into D.C.’s 9:30 Club Saturday for a show with Justin Jones. Tickets are $20 and the show starts at 6:30 p.m.

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