Music Review: Sara Watkins branches out

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

Sara Watkins, "Young in All the Wrong Ways" (New West Records)

Sara Watkins describes her latest venture as "a breakup album with myself," but it seems like there might have been someone else involved.

The songs on "Young in All the Wrong Ways" have bite to them. There is anger here, a jarring departure from Watkins' previous work. A couple of the songs push into hard-edged rock, her voice straining against a jagged electric guitar.

At times she seems to be shouting.

Watkins explains that she's branching out, leaving old patterns and relationships behind. Luckily, she leaves a few reminders of what made her appealing in the first place.

She arrived on the scene with Nickel Creek, the Grammy-winning trio she formed with her brother, Sean Watkins, and Chris Thile. They may not have invented the idea of flavoring bluegrass music with pop sensibilities, but they certainly ran with it.

Still, if there was a knock on Nickel Creek it was that they had too much polish. Their work never had the feel of a Friday night firehouse jam session.

Watkins is at her best, both as a singer and songwriter, on the ballads, especially "Like New Year's Day" and "Say So," both co-written with Dan Wilson. Neither song has the buttoned-down feel that sometimes held Nickel Creek back.

The angry songs certainly lack that feel as well, but there are more promising rewards here for Watkins' adventurousness — and proof that she doesn't have to shout to be heard seeking new frontiers.