Sean Watkins On Unknown Sundays Part 1: The Lead In 14-2016

A Little Context for this Two Part – Unknown Sundays from 2016

This Unknown Sundays is part one (The Lead In) of two (The Wonderlands) from our archives back in 2016 that ran back to back Sundays to explain the whole picture as the glorious unknowns that have the wild talent and range to affect all kinds of bands, musicians, and albums in the music multiverse.  Enjoy part one, here, and then we will finish it up next Sunday.  We also apologize that we were unable to post this yesterday, due to our travel schedule with two teenage daughters in a great Lacrosse Tournament this weekend in Ohio.  We’re working on our remote efficiencies and timing…
There is nothing probably “unknown” to most that follow music about the folk band Nickel Creek, or the alternative-contemporary rock band Switchfoot, Fiona Apple, and these other names associated with fantastic recordings; keyboardist Benmont Tench (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) and bassist Sebastian Steinberg (formerly of Soul Coughing). One might think they have absolutely nothing in common, but they do. They know, share, and collaborate with a particular creative singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist with several other bands; Fiction Family, Work Progress Administration, and The Watkins Family Hour (not to be confused with something out of Lawrence Welk, I assure you). He is Sean Watkins, and it appears to me through his endless musical biography that he is a desperate collaborator extraordinaire, and emotional soloist that totally gets emerged in the idea of living outside the self-centered creative vacuum.
Need a point of reference to categorize this musician? I’m going to go with Marcus Mumford, as he also shares that multi-instrument collaborative dynamic (as he did on the wonderful New Basement Tapes band, which consisted of the varied talents of Jim James of My Morning Jackets, Elvis Costello, Marcus Taylor Goldsmith of The Dawes, Rhiannon Giddens of Carolina Chocolate Drops, and even Johnny Depp under the careful ear of legendary T-Bone Burnett). Sean’s contribution started with the mandolin in Nickel Creek’s folk-blue grass sound, and then grew outward to guitar, piano, ukulele, and a Greek form of guitar/mandolin called the bouzouki (pronounced, buzuk-eye–maybe the plural of bubble gum or what you say after someone sneezes while holding a chainsaw).
Sean Watkins has a carefully crafted solo career that seems to gather up the emotions and talents of those around him that either share recording studio time and or local surprise performance stage time (enter the likes of Fiona Apple, Benmont Tench and Sebastian Steinberg who frequent the Largo Nightclub in Los Angeles with him). Let It Fall in 2001 was his technical blue grass pluckin’ debut that will certainly astound in the variety of tempo, emotion, and deep instrumental areas of delivery close to Nickel Creek with an Oh Brother Where Art Thou background. Blinders On from 2006 moves completely away from blue grass to a country-alternative–pop blend that begins to speak in volume and volumes of the other collaborative influences. “Happy New Year” being the most diverse track, which really deserves that four minute listen to grasp the variety and reach of Sean’s ear. There is plenty of excellent diversions and provocative balance on Blinders On to make a believer out of any music lover, and that would have to do until 2014’s All I Do Is Lie. The return to the folk sound with a huge hitting slice of Americana in triumphs and tribulations, like “The God You Serve” carefully placed deep into the album’s flow. Which brings us up to date with the new release What to Fear, and the razor sharp opening title song, which gets you ready for his lyrical ability to ensnare characters, wrestle with realities and tread lightly the trampled soulfulness of life’s journeys from different people and angles (as Sean has the keen ability to draw empathy instead of always bearing his own soul, which is the very craft of great writing, in my humble opinion).
There’s an endless amount of catalog on an ongoing career from his solo albums, to Nickel Creek, as well as others you should check out; Mutual Admiration Society (with Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket), Work Progress Administration, Fiction Family (which is Sean’s collaboration with Switchfoot’s frontman, Jon Foreman), and the crazy variety of styles from folk to jazz and blues in The Watkins Family Hour. As it states in the very opening of the video from Sean’s title track, “Are you ready for what comes next?” I’m now going to be anticipating that’s for sure.
Which leads us to why this is Part I: The Lead In. So it starts with Sean Watkins’ new release, which then connected me to all those bands listed above–especially, Fiction Family. So, next week, we are going to explore the “unknown” of Jon Foreman of Switchfoot in Part II: The Wonderlands. Until then…”What to Fear?”

Sean Watkins Albums in my collection:   What To Fear (2016)  WPA (2009)

This “Unknown Sundays” was done back on April 3, 2016, which is the last time Sean Watkins has had a solo record.  That’s not surprising considering the Watkins Family Hour realeases in 2020 and 2022, an album “This is Who We Are” with the Bee Eaters, as well as Nickel Creek’s recent release “Celebrants” (2023), as well as the touring and Pandemic.  There’s a lot of folk-rock or alternative-folk music to explore in the various rabbit holes of Mr. Watkins.  I haven’t even explored half of it yet, so help me out okay?  – Mark Kuligowski  [July 9th 2023]

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