Tag Archives: Nickel Creek

Sara Watkins, Sara Watkins

sara-watkinsSara Watkins
Sara Watkins

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Since the announcement of the “indefinite hiatus” of progressive acoustic darlings Nickel Creek, despite a history of diverging solo work, releases from Chris Thile and Sean Watkins have been shackled by expectations of a Creek-like sound. Much like releases from her former band mates, Sara Watkins’ self-titled debut is not a surrogate Nickel creek album. Instead, it is an album that is purely individual, combining the talent that we have already witnessed with more than a few surprises.

Opening with “All this Time,” a rolling country tune driven by pedal steel and the familial blending of Sean Watkins on background vocals, we are treated to a contemporary cut that draws heavily on traditional country sounds. Other successful uses of pedal steel include a smoky rendition of Tom Waits’ “Pony,” and “Any Old Time,” a Jimmie Rodgers song, performed as western swing.

Produced by John Paul Jones, the album continues with a collection, which while grounded in bluegrass and country, is as complex and eclectic as the guests that play on it. Among the artists making appearances are bluegrass artists Rayna Gellert, Ronnie McCoury, Tim O’Brien, and Chris Eldridge; Americana artist Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings; and former Nickel Creek band mates Chris Thile and Sean Watkins.

Through covers and original songs, with the exception of the overly slick “Too Much,” each song easily meshes with the next despite its range. There is the hauntingly elegant “Bygones,” with its genre-bending beauty; the energetic “Long Hot Summer Days,” a melding of blues, folk, and bluegrass; and the subtly presented “Give me Jesus,” a traditional song arranged by Sara and Chris Thile. While Watkins was not a major writing contributor to Nickel Creek, she is the sole writer of six of the fourteen tracks for this project.

The album also includes two instrumental tracks. “Freiderick,” as well as “Jefferson,” the former co-written by the two Watkinses and the latter composed by Sara alone, are capable instrumentals with a heavy Celtic influence. It should be noted that the mandolin on both tracks is played by Ronnie McCoury, avoiding a Nickel Creek reunion that—while intriguing–no doubt would have only distracted from the album.

Sara Watkins’ debut is new and refreshing; it is a blending of retro flavors that remains contemporary, while avoiding the manufactured nostalgia that so often creeps into both Nashville and alt-country music.

 

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Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists: Dolly Parton

dolly-partonEarlier this month, my friend and colleague Leeann Ward shared her favorite songs by Dolly Parton.    I’m happy to now share mine.

My respect for Parton as an artist knows no bounds.  I don’t think there is another figure in country music that is visible in so many of the contours of the genre’s history.    Given that I have a taste for country, pop, bluegrass, and damn fine songwriting, it was no small feat picking just twenty-five songs.    This is just a sampling of her deep catalog, one that is long overdue to be fully reissued.   Some of these tracks are hard to find, but most can be downloaded digitally or purchased on CDs, though you may need to scour compilations to find them.

#25
“Those Were the Days”
Those Were the Days, 2005

The title track from Parton’s third collection of cover songs is all bittersweet nostalgia, looking back on the dreams of youth that time has revealed to be wide-eyed.   “We’re older but no wiser,” she tells her old friend at the tavern, as she remembers how they thought life would really go: “We’d live the life we choose, we’d fight and never lose, those were the days, oh yes, those were the days.”

#24
“Change”
Something Special, 1995

How does one retain the last shreds of their dignity and hope for the future after a particularly bruising relationship?  Walk away, and promise not to come back until all of the wounds have healed.   “Someday when I’m over you, and when I think I’m able to, then I might try to be your friend again.   But I don’t want to see your face until then.”

#23
“Here You Come Again”
Here You Come Again, 1977

Parton was so concerned about this song being used as evidence that she was leaving country that she made the producers add a steel guitar to the track.   Not that it really mattered.  A song this catchy was bound to conquer both the pop and country charts.    Known up until then for her country work, she proved she could handle a pure pop melody as good as anyone else.

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CMA Flashback: Horizon Award (New Artist)

For a look back at the other major categories, visit our CMA Awards page.

2010

  • Luke Bryan
  • Easton Corbin
  • Jerrod Neimann
  • Chris Young
  • Zac Brown Band

Usually there isn’t this much turnover in this race unless most of last year’s nominees are ineligible.  This year, only one of the four eligible nominees from last year – Zac Brown Band – earns a nomination.  With their massive success and their multiple nominations, they’ve got an excellent shot at winning. Then again, Easton Corbin is elsewhere on the ballot, too. It could be a horse race.
2009

  • Randy Houser
  • Jamey Johnson
  • Jake Owen
  • Darius Rucker
  • Zac Brown Band

Thirteen years after winning the Best New Artist Grammy as part of Hootie & The Blowfish, Darius Rucker won the country music equivalent, adding an exclamation point to the most successful pop-to-country crossover in a generation.

lady-antebellum2008

  • Jason Aldean
  • Rodney Atkins
  • Lady Antebellum
  • James Otto
  • Kellie Pickler

The industry favorites Lady Antebellum became the fourth band in history to win this award, following Rascal Flatts, Dixie Chicks and Sawyer Brown.

2007

  • Jason Aldean
  • Rodney Atkins
  • Little Big Town
  • Kellie Pickler
  • Taylor Swift

In the year since winning the Horizon Award, Swift has solidified her position as the genre’s most successful rising star.  While her debut album hasn’t reached the sales heights of the first discs by previous winners Carire Underwood and Gretchen Wilson, Swift is still one of the genre’s only significant sellers.

2006

  • Miranda Lambert
  • Little Big Town
  • Sugarland
  • Josh Turner
  • Carrie Underwood

I had a sneaking suspicion that Josh Turner was going to take this home, but as I’ve said before, Carrie’s got the best pipes since Trisha Yearwood. That she’ was acknowledged for that at such an early stage of her career is pretty amazing. Somehow I think the thrill of winning Horizon was short-lived, as winning Female Vocalist the same night left that memory in the dust.

2005

  • Dierks Bentley
  • Big & Rich
  • Miranda Lambert
  • Julie Roberts
  • Sugarland

Four of these five were nominees again the following year, and all in categories besides just Horizon, though Lambert got another shot at that as well. I think Big & Rich and Sugarland are making the most interesting music, and they’re moving more units than Bentley, though he’s no slouch himself. The CMA showed good judgment this year.

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Sound Off: Alex Woodard featuring Sara Watkins, “Reno”

Today we’re featuring Alex Woodard, as this is the release date of his new album, Alex Woodard.  The song for download, “Reno”, features Sara Watkins, who is most known for her work in Nickel Creek.   Longtime readers know how much we dig Nickel Creek in these parts, so check this one out.

Here’s the press release:

Singer/songwriter Alex Woodard will release his new, self-titled album tomorrow, August 19, on Woodshack Music/Adrenaline Music Group. With his undeniable, story-driven songwriting, Woodard tackles universal themes like love, loss, hope, and struggle, tapping into a rich vein of country-rock that George Varga, Music Editor of the San Diego Union Tribune, calls, “An accomplished collection that suggests broader success is close at hand…Woodard’s well-crafted songs are cut from the same cloth as Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and John Mellencamp, whose music eloquently captures earthy truths about living, loving and growing older without losing the dreams of youth.  His words and music are right on target.” Allmusic.com also raves, “Woodard pens tales instantly recognizable, for they’re American stories we’ve all lived and shared, with the album holding a mirror to us all.”

Joining Woodard on the new album is Nickel Creek’s singer/fiddler and fellow San Diego surfer Sara Watkins, who duets with him on “Reno,” a song about letting go of dreams that don’t fit anymore. Pulled from the popular Blog Spot, Wildy’s World, “The absolute highlight of this album is Reno, the duet with Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins. This is one of the most traditional country sounding songs on the album, and Woodard’s voice works with Watkins’ so well you’d think they’ve been singing together for years.”  Grammy-winner Watkins, whose fiddle appears on several tracks, also lends her voice to the ballad, while Fountains of Wayne’s Brian Young mans the drums.

Download.com observes that Alex’s “cool folk melancholy sounds especially fine next to gleaming country-pop guitars,” and Today’s Country Magazine says: “Woodard crafts [his lyrics] in a way that delivers the stories perfectly.”

Look for Woodard to appear in your town on his popular “House Concert Tour” where he is playing in local fans homes.

Listen & Download: Reno

Official Site: Alex Woodard

MySpace Page: Alex Woodard

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