Watkins Family Hour: Watkins Family Hour

The long-running L.A. musical variety show yields a slight but enjoyable album without pretensions to being anything more than slight and enjoyable.

Watkins Family Hour

Watkins Family Hour

Label: Thirty Tigers
US Release Date: 2015-07-24
UK Release Date: 2015-07-24

Sara and Sean Watkins have been playing regular shows at Los Angeles’ Largo club since roughly 2002. The Watkins Family Hour, as it’s called, has been a place for the siblings and their friends to try out new material, goof around on cover songs, and just play music with whoever shows up. It’s a gig that’s endured the siblings’ world tours as part of Nickel Creek as well as fit in between their various solo releases and side projects. Now that the touring cycle for 2014’s Nickel Creek comeback album A Dotted Line is finished and fellow Creeker Chris Thile has gone back to Punch Brothers, the Watkins have decided to take a version of the Family Hour out on tour.

To give those who don’t live in L.A. a taste of what to expect, Sean and Sara got together with a group of Family Hour regulars and recorded this self-titled album, a jaunty, breezy collection of covers from a wide variety of sources. Sara gets the bulk of the lead vocals across these 11 songs, but nearly everyone in the band gets at least one chance to step up to the mic, which perfectly captures the feeling of a loose, anything-goes variety show.

Sara gets things started with the appropriately titled “Feelin’ Good Again”, a Robert Earl Keen song about visiting a favorite local club to find your favorite band playing and all your friends already there. It has a lived-in, easygoing feel that sets the stage nicely for the rest of the album. Second song “Where I Oughta Be”, a classic country tale by Harlan Howard, features Fiona Apple dueting with Sara. Apple’s husky delivery works surprisingly well with the lyrics about getting an invitation to the wedding of your ex-girlfriend and the friend you introduced her to.

Sean gets involved with Roger Miller’s “Not in Nottingham”, from Disney’s animated Robin Hood. Like many of the songs on the album, this track benefits from having a full ensemble of players who also know exactly when to take the spotlight and when to back off. So a simple vocals and acoustic guitar track gets filled out by piano, pedal steel guitar, fiddle, and bass, as well as quiet percussion. Sean also takes on Bob Dylan (and the Band) with a version of “Going Going Gone”, from Dylan’s 1974 album Planet Waves. This is an instance where the loose vibe works in the band’s favor, as there isn’t any real pressure to bring something new or unique to a Dylan song. It’s just a very listenable, straight-up cover of one of Dylan’s less-famous tracks.

Tom Petty keyboardist Benmont Tench is the first backing player to try lead vocals on the record, and his take on the classic piano blues tune “Prescription for the Blues” is appropriately gritty. Sara’s fiddle ornamentations mesh very nicely with Tench’s piano to make the short song a lot of fun. Bassist Sebastian Steinberg, who played with Soul Coughing in the ‘90s and has done lots of L.A. session work in the 21st century, sings the slow ballad “She Thinks I Still Care”, which goes on for a full five minutes and overstays its welcome. On the other hand, drummer Don Heffington’s equally slow take on “The King of the 12 Oz. Bottles” has a lot more energy. The song, from Fear singer Lee Ving’s country period, has a sardonic point of view: “So much beer and so little time”. It works much better than the straight up “woe is me” outlook of Steinberg’s song.

As Sara fills out the rest of the record, she goes from upbeat on the late period (2003) Fleetwood Mac song “Steal Your Heart Away” to a slow-fast-slow take on the traditional “Hop High.” The record ends with her singing the wistful but pleasant Gordon Lightfoot song “Early Morning Rain” and the Grateful Dead staple “Brokedown Palace,” which fits in perfectly with the overall easygoing country-rock vibe of the album.

Watkins Family Hour is a slight but enjoyable album without pretensions to being anything more than slight and enjoyable. This is nobody’s main gig and there’s no real pressure here. Fans of the Watkins or any of the other band members will probably enjoy the record as long as, like the band members themselves, they don’t go in with unreasonable expectations.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.