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Sean Watkins

What to Fear – 2016 (Thirty Tigers)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Sean Watkins

A veteran of numerous collaborative combos - most famously, Nickel Creek, Fiction Family, the Watkins Family and WPA - Sean Watkins' solo excursions have often been overshadowed by his work with others. That said, "What To Fear" is the kind of album that can change those assertions once and forever. It forms an instant connection, flush with melodic tunes delivered in intimate settings and with minimal accompaniment.

Several special guests make appearances - most notably, sister Sara Watkins, drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, Petra Haden and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty fame - but they don't distract from the quiet resolve Watkins realizes is well within his reach and the formidable impression he makes all on his own.

At its essence, "What To Fear" is a homespun set of original songs capturing a singular sensory experience. Best compared to a quiet night in the country, it imagines the glow of a campfire as it slowly succumbs to the flame's final embers. Indeed, the album art visualizes the idyllic imagery that's reflected by Watkins' tender trappings. "Last Time for Everything," "Back On My Feet" and the title track are the most memorable of that lot, but when "Keep Your Promises II " and "Too Little Too Late" provide Watkins room for a final flourish, the music soars to even higher heights. Even the sole instrumental, "Local Honey," manages to make a mark, a gentle interlude that still sustains the overall flow.

Watkins has been plying his craft for most of his life, building his reputation from able support player to an artist worthy of standing in the spotlight. After five of his own albums, his confidence is clear. Here, less is more, enough to make this a stunning success.