I’ve had Sun Midnight Sun as a companion for a few months now. Can’t remember why I bought it, but it has been a creeper, slowly infiltrating the ‘that’s good’ part of my brain. It’s the second solo album (Nonesuch Records) from singer, songwriter, and fiddle player Sara Watkins and was released in May 2012. Watkins was formerly a leading light in the crack bluegrass outfit Nickel Creek. Sun Midnight Sun was produced by guitarist, singer, and songwriter Blake Mills, co-founder of the band Simon Dawes (later Dawes) and guitarist for Lucinda Williams when I saw the latter a couple of times in 2011 in New Orleans. The album features special guest appearances by Fiona Apple, Jackson Browne, Taylor Goldsmith (the aforementioned Dawes), Benmont Tench, and Sean Watkins, a pretty impressive list.
Sun Midnight Sun includes two covers – Willie Nelson’s “I’m A Memory” which she shares with Browne and a duet with Fiona Apple on the Everly Brothers’ (very short) song “You’re The One I Love”. There are two instrumentals – the feisty bluegrass number “The Foothills” which showcases Watkins’ fiddle playing and the melodic and graceful “Accord”.
“Lock And Key” is a strong track but I think the highlight of the ten-track album is the seven-minute “When It Pleases You”, with its grungy guitar and clever arrangements. Watkins’ own song “You And Me” with its sultry vocals (see below) and the moody “Be There”, about the loneliness of a traveling musician, are both high class. Watkins, who was on the recent live album by the Decemberists, plays guitar and ukulele, as well as the fiddle. Sun Midnight Sun marks a progression and change in musical direction for Watkins, from her rustic past to embrace indie pop, folk-rock and Americana.
Here’s a newly-released video for “You and Me”.
Watkins returns to the road in the U.S. on May 5 with a performance at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, following by a tour of the West Coast, including a number of stops in California, Oregon, and Washington. In June, she joins Jackson Browne as special guest on his acoustic tour, and in July and August she meets up with Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion Radio Romance Tour on the East Coast and Midwest. For additional details and ticket links, visit nonesuch.com/on-tour.