Music Review: Watkins duo gives everyone a turn at the mike

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Watkins Family Hour, "Watkins Family Hour" (Family Hour Records)

Fiona Apple seems to be singing with a frog in her throat at one point on "Watkins Family Hour," reflecting the informality of the proceedings. The 11 songs, all covers, were recorded live in the studio in an attempt to capture the convivial charm of the variety shows hosted monthly by Sara and Sean Watkins at a Los Angeles club.

Like those outings, these performances are uneven but spirited and full of surprises. Everyone gets a turn at the mike, and the supporting cast upstages the stars. Tom Petty keyboardist Benmont Tench steals the show by singing the 1960s tune "Prescription for the Blues" as if he wrote it, and Don Heffington is a hoot on the novelty weeper "The King of the 12 Ounce Bottles."

There's plenty of nifty instrumental work thanks to Tench, the Watkins siblings and ace sideman Greg Leisz. But the energy sags on occasion, while Apple sounds frantically over-the-top on Skeeter Davis' "Where I Ought to Be." And for some reason, "Watkins Family Hour" lasts only 39 minutes.