Youth and Wisdom Unify in Sara Watkins
In a sea of artists trying to get their foot in the door musically, it’s always a pleasure to hear from a well-established act that knows exactly who they are and what they want to deliver. Singer-songwriter Sara Watkins is just that artist. As the former singer for blue-grass group Nickel Creek, member of I’m With Her with Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, and two albums under her belt; it is safe to say Watkins knows what she’s doing. Moreover, if her incredible voice weren’t enough of a tool for success, she also plays the fiddle, ukulele, and the guitar. Young in All the Wrong Ways seems to be an exploration of Watson’s musical influences over her career and it is a gorgeous experience.
The title track gives off a surprisingly soulful delivery from Watkins, showing off how unafraid she is to change up her sound. Her voice is soft yet intense and really gets the feeling of nostalgia across. The guitar work mimics the contrast in her vocals with raw yet melodic playing. Transitions from reminiscing on acoustic guitar, to restating who she’s become with intricate electric guitar riffs further compliment Watson’s storytelling abilities.
Her narrative prowess is further displayed on “The Love that got Away.” This track can be best described as “Hotel California” played on a ukulele. You’re welcome. Watson shows off the upper register of her voice, which she sustains effortlessly. The soft piano playing meshes with the despair in her voice as she sings about the regrets she may have about her missed opportunity with her lost lover.
Watson’s blue-grass roots finally come out with a bang on “One Last Time.” Standing bass provides a bouncy rhythm for the country style guitar melody and the fiddling accompaniment. The track is one of the more light-hearted moments on the album in terms of lyrics and melody. For instance, Watkins semi-joyfully chants “you don’t miss me; you just miss my kisses.” You can hear the legitimate comfort and enjoyment she has in singing this type of music. As a result, the listener can’t help but be lifted up by the infectious nature of the song, and no one’s complaining.
The album reaches it’s crescendo with “Move Me” which is unsurprisingly one of the commercial singles. Watkins lets loose an extremely engaging, raunchier side to her voice. You won’t be able to get this song out of your head in the best possible way. I assure you, you will find yourself peacefully sitting at the dinner table and in an uncontrollable burst, shout “I want you to move me” with no irony. For the eminent gazes of shock and awe, refer your audience to the music video for this single and everything will be explained. Again, Watson’s ability to conjure and project feeling is astonishing, She’s smart about her singing as well as the arrangement of the song itself and everything seems to be perfectly in place yet effortless. The perfect example of this is her transition from the bridge into the chorus of this song and the inflection she puts on “move” as she enters her head-voice. It’s seamless, and scary, and I love it.
The next few tracks are a sort of cool down from the intensity of the previous half, but is just as musically breathtaking. Watkins continues to explore genres on “Without a Word.” The song has a bluesy sound conveyed by organ and acoustic guitar accompaniment. Her delivery on this slow jam is very breathy; we know this is intentional and controlled after what we’ve heard that she’s capable of with her voice in the previous tracks. This vocal choice is a smart way of word painting the “[leaving] without a word” by telling the story in a whisper and that kind of thought is so appreciated. She then moves onto a pure country blues on “The Truth Won’t Set Us Free.” In contrast, “Invisible” has a very simple arrangement, probably to keep the emphasis on the lyrics which are definitely her most heart wrenching on the album and I believe they speak for themselves:
I don’t wanna be a weak on holding on to not let go
Calling out cause I don’t want to be alone
And I’m not looking for an easy way
I’m looking for the truth
Finally, “Tender-hearted” is really the culmination of what Young in All the Wrong Ways is about. The track calls on the classic sounds of blue-grass and country behind Watkins’ amazing voice and thoughtful instrumentation. With this song, as well as the work as a whole, Watkins proves that doesn’t take a lot of bells and whistles to make great music and she has embodied this concept in a stunning way.