Sean Watkins,
Blinders On
(Sugar Hill, 2006)

Sean Watkins is one-third of the popular contemporary bluegrass trio Nickel Creek -- currently about to embark on a break from ensemble life. Blinders On is Watkins' third solo project, on which he has written or co-written all 15 songs and also takes the production credits.

From the outset, Watkins departs from the crisp bluegrass sounds of Nickel Creek, with thoroughly modern sounding pop on "Summer's Coming," at times with somewhat dissonant accompaniment. "Starve Them to Death" continues in this vein, though the inclusion of Sara Watkins on fiddle -- his sister and fellow Nickel Creek member -- lends a more organic aspect.

In a delightful moment of eccentricity, "Hello ... Goodbye" is little over a minute long and tells of a fleeting post-gig encounter. It's less of a song and more of a brief glance into Watkins' sub-conscious, possibly hinting at a degree of shyness on Watkins' behalf. It left me wondering if "Kate" knew she'd made such an impression and if she's since heard this tender little homage!

Watkins' songs cover the usual gamut of disillusions with life, lost loves and pining for new loves, and he even a borrows lyrics from Robbie Burns' "Auld Lang Syne" for his own electro-pop composition, "Happy New Year." Ultimately, there's nothing that really stands out lyrically, and it's more likely to be the imaginative and avant-garde arrangements that sustain interest.

One imagines Watkins is often seen to be in the shadow of his charismatic bandmate, Chris Thile, but with Blinders On Watkins has crafted an interesting collection with broad appeal -- faultless musicianship, contemporary arrangements and several moments of engaging quirkiness.

review by
Mike Wilson

20 October 2007

what's new