Five years ago, siblings Sara and Sean Watkins captured the lightning-in-a-bottle spirit of their beloved, long-running Los Angeles residency at Largo with their first Watkins Family Hour record. It had that spontaneous vibe of seeing one of those shows, full of special guests and unexpected turns. And while both Watkins have continued to stay busy with their own solo projects and collaborations, they have come back together with brother sister. This time, they gave it a different kind of focus, spending concentrated time writing songs together especially for this record, and that thoughtfulness and care shows itself all over brother sister.
Both Sara and Sean Watkins are known for their honeyed voices, and together, they sound extra rich. Strategically placing harmonies in all the right places and trading off lead vocal duties, they give us a balanced helping of each distinct voice, plus the heavenly blend of Sara’s signature fiddle and Sean’s guitar. The seven original songs on brother sister aren’t just the product of the duo’s songwriting skills, they’re also a reflection of where they are in their lives now and where they’ve been, as well as the people and places that have shaped them. The rousing “Just Another Reason” and the sweet and slow “Lafayette,” both standouts, tenderly speak to the uncertainty that California wildfires bring, and the push and pull of Hollywood. “The Cure” finds them meeting themselves where they’re at, accepting the present for what it is, even if it’s a mess. The fiery fiddle of instrumental tune “Bella and Ivan” lends an element of playfulness to an ode to dog friends.
Three lovingly chosen cover tunes remind us that brother sister hasn’t forgotten the collaborative feeling of the live Watkins Family Hour shows, particularly “Keep it Clean.” An old Charley Jordan tune, it serves as an uplifting conclusion to the record, and brings in vocals from David Garza, Gaby Moreno, and John C. Reilly. If only we could all be together in the room, watching them have a blast.