Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Nick Luca at New Monkey Studio, Van Nuys, Calif.
The record that Sara Watkins made with Blake Mills - "Sun Midnight Sun" -- is one that makes you think you're capable of loving better. It makes you think that you're missing someone. You're just not at all sure who that someone is. You feel it though.
You feel what Watkins is singing about, right down in your bones and it makes your knees buckle in places. She's written a record that makes you feel as if you've put yourself into the most vulnerable of positions, even while you're as safe as you've ever been, right there in your chair, with your warm hands and your cooperative heart. The characters in her newest batch of songs have been wronged. They've been looking back at some photographs taken in happier times and they're not sure what happened to those times, but they still feel as if there are some shots left on the roll of film, or there are scenes left to be developed. It's not quite over yet. She sings about still being able to win the game. The light has not gone completely out on the love that once was, or the loves that once were. There is still a flicker that could get bigger once again.
Of course, it could be snuffed out just as easily, but there's a belief that it could burst hot once more. She sings of relationships that are on the ropes or have already reached a point of little return. They were going so well too. It all has the feeling of someone having been taken to the cleaners. On one of the best songs of the year so far, "When It Pleases You," Watkins sings, ""You love me/When it pleases you/You want me/When it's easy to do/You want me/When you don't want anybody else to/You love me/When it pleases you/I've been keeping it convenient/For you to keep close to me/I've been making it too easy/For you to hang on loosely/I've been holding on and dreaming on/For you, oh to come round to me/When it pleases you."
This comes after having already sung a song like "You And Me," where the good, golden nostalgia is rich, when the old memories are thick as mosquitoes. It's a relationship that's ended and she's remembering once again. They are fond memories, but they're still in the past and there's little to show for them. She remembers the night flowers in their bloom and a sweetened air, but all that comes of it is another little slice of sadness. We'll take sadness as Watkins deals it though. Oddly enough, it feels as good as most happiness can feel.