Watkins Family Hour, Vol. 2

Watkins Family Hour

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Watkins Family Hour, Vol. 2 Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Watkins Famly Hour, Vol. 2 isn't the second album by the Watkins Family Hour, the loose collective shepherded by Sara and Sean Watkins, the siblings who launched their musical career in Nickel Creek. It's the third record from the group, following Brother Sister, the 2020 album where the Watkins focused on their particular family dynamics. That's not what happens here. Watkins Family Hour, Vol. 2 is very similar to the eponymous 2015 debut from the collective, placing the emphasis on a communal set of voices who harmonize, lift, share, and support their colleagues. Some of the cast of characters is quite familiar, either from Watkins Family Hour records or their regular concerts at the Largo in Los Angeles: Fiona Apple, Benmont Tench, Jon Brion, and Sebastian Steinberg are all here, along with Jackson Browne, Madison Cunningham, Lucius, Gaby Moreno, and Willie Watson. As notable as the guest spots are, the repertoire is equally diverse and impressive: the set opens up with the Zombies' "The Way I Feel Inside," winds through tUnE-yArDs' "Hypnotized," and Elliott Smith's "Pitseleh," and Browne's "The Late Show," not to mention the country standard "Tennessee Waltz." What ties everything together is how the Watkins shape each of the songs to fit their aesthetic, which is at once homey and sophisticated. Everything sounds welcoming and comforting, yet not quite familiar, with melodies seeming to run on their own accord and the harmonies emphasizing unexpected emotions. Even "Tennessee Waltz," as shopworn a standard as there ever has been, has a sway, sighing lilt that feels fresh in its intimacy which is every bit as warm as the laid-back ramble through "(Remember Me) I'm the One Who Loves You," a hit for Ernest Tubb later covered by Dean Martin here given a joyous reading with Apple on co-vocals. Between these two extremes, the Watkins Family Hour tackles a number of different emotions, winding up with a record that's simultaneously casual and deep, a testament to the power of community arriving at an hour where such bonds are often tested.

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