Setting aside the melancholy sounds of her debut, 2016’s I Am New, Cf Watkins offers her follow-up, Babygirl, a set of pop-sensitive tunes replete with airy melodies, accessible imagery, and an ultimately triumphant tone.
The album opens with “The Tell,” a languorous piece that brings to mind Edie Brickell circa Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars. “I’m not gonna beg / I won’t beg for you anymore,” Watkins sings, moving on from the heartbreak that fueled her debut. “Changeable” is a sultry tribute to the South, Watkins displaying the warm suppleness of her voice: “I hate this city / I can’t say exactly what makes it so shitty / but I swear I’m doing my best / to get back south.” The title song displays the influence of Taylor Swift’s cross-templatizations of pop and country, particularly 2012’s Red.
“Holly” revolves around a sensual chorus and highlights Watkins’ gift for portraiture: “Holly, you are the mist / in the early morning Massachusetts air.” “I don’t want to have to wait for you no more,” Watkins sings on “Frances,” articulating the way in which people grow estranged, often as a result of failing to navigate their relational ambivalence, an inability to reconcile desires for both independence and belonging.
On “Westfield,” multi-instrumentalist Max Hart’s subtle instrumentation, including a sparse fiddle part, bolsters and complements Watkins’ gossamer melody. “Little Thing” chugs along with a folk-rock tempo. Hart’s guitar work is notable. The album closes with “White Nights,” a wistful reflection on a free spirit named Marie (“Oh Marie, I’ll never regret the nights I spent with you”).
If Watkins’ debut occurred as a Cat Power/sadcore-inflected take on Americana, Babygirl falls more squarely in the country-pop camp, characterized by immediacy, melodic infectiousness, and traditional instrumentation. Taken together, these albums illustrate Watkins’ versatility as an artist. I Am New evinces a distinctly indie vibe, while Babygirl embraces mainstream approaches, and could win Watkins a slew of new fans.