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Sara Watkins

Sun Midnight Sun – 2012 (Nonesuch)

Reviewed by Rick Bell

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CDs by Sara Watkins

Well, so much for the sweet, adorable Sara Watkins. After an endearing, cuddly solo debut in 2009 that included her foot-stomping rendition of John Hartford's Long Hot Summer Day, Watkins adds a new wrinkle with her latest effort: an edgy, sometimes angry attitude.

Bathing her songs in a folky-bluegrass setting with an array of way-cool guests, If It Pleases You is a defiant flip-off while Willie Nelson's I'm a Memory seethes with open hostility as Watkins and brother Sean rage through their closing fiddle and guitar licks. The Everly Brothers' You're the One I Love (which was specially released as a vinyl single for April's Record Shop Day) finds Sara Watkins and Fiona Apple racing above Sean Watkins' humming guitar at breakneck speed, tripping the wire in under two minutes.

This tasty 10-song collection also debuts a more emotive vocal presence, as she breathlessly coos the hopeful glass-half-full Be There and Impossible.

Watkins has been an amazing sideman for years, first with Nickel Creek and guesting on the road with The Decemberists the past year or so. And while her debut served notice that Watkins has the chops to be a solo artist, this follow-up firmly establishes Watkins as an artist coming into her own.