Sean Watkins

26 Miles

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On his second solo release, Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek further departs from progressive bluegrass to craft a collection of thoughtful and dour acoustic pop. 26 Miles still sparkles with clean, full production and a sense of crossing many genres, but this time Watkins lands a little closer to the likes of Grant Lee Phillips than Alison Brown. From the distinctly indie rock "On Ice" (Death Cab for Cutie comes to mind) to the alt-country rocker "Hiding," 26 Miles never reaches the exuberance of Nickel Creek, but that doesn't seem to be Watkins' goal here -- the album is much more likely to traffic in the wistful and downbeat than the rollicking and bouncy. Sara Watkins' harmony on "Locking Doors" is quite beautiful, which leads to an interesting point. Both this tune and the striking "On Ice" were written on tour as part of a game -- everyone had to write a song of the same title -- an exercise with astounding results. All in all, 26 Miles is distinctly a road album, written in the confusion and exhaustion of a tour. It's hardly uplifting, but Watkins negotiates the material deftly with an emotional subtlety.

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