Solidifying Her Solo Voice
"You and Me" (purchase/download) is a richly nuanced contemporary folk song held down by a deep and thumping rhythm section. It's almost a shame the song appears so early on in the disc. It may have done better later on, considering its complicated honesty is a bit startling after the fiercely distorted fiddle tune which precedes it ("The Foothills").
The whole spirit of this disc seems to be about shedding skin and old clothes, exploring the depths of one's self, shirking the comfortable aesthetics of youth in favor of the possibly heavier (but decidedly more enriching) trappings of maturity.
Quickly, she spins into a series of tunes which are explicitly not folk music. Folks reading this site because they're interested in traditional old time music may as well steer clear. Those moved by genuine expression which doesn't even try to hold allegiance to any singular form, will find plenty to enjoy. It's informed by tradition, to be sure, but this is very much a statement from one woman living in the 21st century.
That her fiercest instrumental prowess is on fiddle may be part of what's encouraged her to stand in as backup-player. But as a frontwoman, Watkins possesses at least as much if not more of the imaginative vision touted by her more widely praised old friend Thile, or even the occasional understated solo avenues explored by her brother Sean (who also appears on this record).
Admittedly, with only two solo albums under her belt, it's a chore to wrest free of any comparison to what Watkins has done before. Maybe it's the grittier influence of Dawes singer/songwriter Blake Mills, who produced the disc, but Sun Midnight Sun is an entirely different album from what you may have thought to expect...in the best way. I advise you to approach it with an open pair of ears.