JPR Live Session: Sean Watkins

Jul 22, 2016

Multi-instrumentalist Sean Watkins has long been known for his work as one-third of the Grammy Award-winning Nickel Creek and, more recently, for helming, with sister Sara, the itinerant, genre-hopping Watkins Family Hour ensemble. But in the last year he has more assertively – and impressively – taken on the role of solo artist. What To Fear is a follow-up to 2014’s acclaimed All I Do Is Lie, which had been Watkins’ first solo effort in nearly a decade, ten years that had been jammed with collaborative projects and a herculean amount of touring.

On his own, Watkins displays tremendous warmth and soulfulness as a singer, a refreshing candor and humor as a lyricist, and prodigious skill as an arranger. And he doesn’t merely stick with the familiar: On What To Fear, he bolsters an acoustic lineup with a rock rhythm section, bringing drama and drive to these new tracks while keeping intact the emotional intimacy of all the stories he is telling. Watkins’ singing unites disparate narrative threads; he’s disarmingly honest and sympathetic, no matter whom the character he is channeling might be. Similarly, he has managed to take the work of his acoustic collaborators - -the gifted young Northern Californian trio, Bee Eaters – with the robust bass and drums combo of Matt Chamberlain and Mike Elizondo.

For the longest time I didn’t feel comfortable in that role, “Watkins admits. “I loved being in bands. But now that I’ve done songs that I really like-- I’m proud of my last one, and even prouder of this one --that makes a big difference when you’re traveling solo, stepping on stage by yourself. It’s fun to go out on stage – anything is possible. It’s gone from feeling daunting to being hopeful and free.