In Brief: A smart but subdued folk/bluegrass record from an all-female trio that at times appears to be holding back the full power of their vocal harmonies and songwriting skills. This took a while for me to fully get into, but I can now say that I’m with I’m With Her.
Here are my first impressions of the latest releases from House of Heroes, Sara Watkins, Switchfoot, The Temper Trap, Steven Page, Mumford & Sons, Relient K, and Kevin Max.
In Brief: Nickel Creek is back after a 7-year hiatus with a new album which covers a lot of ground in only 10 tracks, re-establishing them as an instrumental, vocal, and lyrical force to be reckoned with.
I really wasn’t sure last night whether we were going to a Fiction Family show with Sara Watkins opening, or a Sara Watkins show with Fiction Family opening. I get the idea that they’ve been switching up lead roles on this tour, likely to the chagrin of venues who want to be able to tell their patrons exactly when each act will be performing. I got tickets just knowing Fiction Family would be there, and considered Sara Watkins to be a bonus. She ended up performing first, though Sean pulled double duty in both bands, as well as Fiction Family’s bass/keyboard guy, Tyler Chester, and Sara hopped up on stage several times during Fiction Family’s set to contribute fiddle and vocals. All in all, it felt like a family atmosphere, and I’ve rarely seen two siblings with such musical chemistry as the two Watkins – they’re nigh-inseparable. Sean’s fictional bro Jon Foreman seems like the odd man out in that scenario, but the enthusiasm he brings even to small club shows is infectious. He can play a goofy country song to a small crowd with the same level of excitement he brings to Switchfoot playing one of their biggest hits in a large amphitheater. That, and an overall band chemistry that makes the live shows easily supersede the recordings, is what makes both FF and Sara Watkins great acts to see live if you ever get the chance.
In Brief: Short but sweet easily trumps long-winded and boring. In light of a solo debut that almost made me a non-fan, Watkins’ sophomore album wins the “most improved” award.
There’s a lot of war, betrayal, decay, and destruction that plays out over the course of these two discs. You wouldn’t guess it right away from a lot of the up-tempo song selections, nor from the downright worshipful songs that bookend the set, and certainly not from the lovely scenery taken from a few of my favorite hikes that got chosen for the the cover art. This didn’t come from some weird place of turmoil in my own life – either it was a reflection on conflicts going on in the world at the time, or else I just sort of realize a theme was pulling itself together in the individual songs I was enjoying around that time, and I put them together in such a way that it really emphasized the common thread between a lot of them. There’s also some weird stuff about astronauts and aliens here and there… and a few songs that were chosen to commemorate an unusually warm Southern California spring. So it’s not all dark clouds and disasters and bullets and bombs and blood. But yeah… I guess it’s mostly that.
In with the New:
The Reign of Kindo
Sara Watkins (as a solo artist – appears previously with Nickel Creek)
Out with the Old:
Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts
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We returned to California in July to find summer in full blast. Maybe it was the sudden change of environment, or maybe it was just a sense of “What now?” after fulfilling that lifelong dream by going on the Alaska trip, but I got sick and rather depressed for most of July, and I felt this general sense of weakness and unidentifiable malaise most days, especially if I put off eating a meal. It took me a while to figure out that it directly correlated to mealtimes, but I also think there was an emotional/spiritual component to it that led me to make more of a deliberate effort to reconnect with friends in my faith community, and especially with my wife, with whom I celebrated two years of marriage that summer.
In with the New:
Andrea Corr (as a solo artist – appears previously with The Corrs)
Out with the Old:
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