Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
One of the songs that Sara Watkins chose to record for her debut solo album, after the dissolution of the incredible Nickel Creek - featuring her brother Sean Watkins and mandolin prodigy Chris Thile - is an old bluegrass number written by John Hartford called "Long Hot Summer Days." The verses paint a picture of the Midwest, the part of the country that this Californian was in at the time of this taping, and of an era that was nearly all difficult times of poverty and simple pleasures, like time off to see a girl a man loved more than any other and to uncap an old, glass fruit jar filled to the brim with the most quenching and chilled, iced tea known to a tongue. The hopeless, but content and worked to the bone man of this song is working the Illinois River and thinking about that gal in Pekin and picturing her cooling her sweaty skin, sitting next to a weak window fan that's unable to keep up with the demand, as he's drifting off into a night's sleep, surrounded by empty bottles or just gazing into the muddy waters, daydreaming his way to his weekend or quittin' time. It's romantic in an old-timey way and it's the kind of sentiment that Watkins does so well. We can smell the perfume of the pretty ladies in her songs ( and the effort to look stunning without making it seem like it was any effort whatsoever - back when the easy beauty was all the eye cared for) and we can smell the cologne and hair treatment of the dapper young men trying to win their hearts - we can smell the flowers that they come bearing, as well as the polish that they've applied to their best pair of shoes. There's a chivalry to the loves that are being offered and sought in the timeless, countrified tales that Watkins pens, as well as the ones she hand-picked to make up this first record. Hers is a puckered and airy voice of such smooth temperature that she sounds as if she could easily be had by the bug, in for it good, as if the heartbreak could be on her like shadflies in an overgrown and damp ditch - brushing them nonchalantly away with hands. The self-titled album brings all of the aspects of hers that were so loved in the Nickel Creek songs where she sang the vocal lead, displaying all of the vulnerability and swooning moonlight into the storylines that slipped into every young heart, corralling their intentions and their every thought. It's an album of old feelings, being taken on by new participants. And even as she sings, "Never thought we'd get so good at feeling so bad," the feeling bad isn't really all that much of a concern. It somehow feels good in and of itself.