Sara Watkins throws a bone to her old Nickel Creek fans by opening up Sun Midnight Sun with "The Foothills," one of the album's two instrumental numbers. It's a zippy bluegrass tune, driven forward by Watkins' furious fiddle playing, and it's the closest she ever comes to the rustic sound of her former band. Watkins doesn't completely forsake the farm for the city on this solo release, but she does stretch her arms quite a bit, pulling in everything from quirky indie pop to West Coast folk-rock to harmony-drenched Americana.
Watkins has created a sound that grittily avoids tired country clichés. Sid Smith 2012 There are times when the country scene appears homogenised, with winsome vocalists assembled as though they were part of some cookie-cutter assembly line. With her second solo album, Sara Watkins effortlessly bucks this depressing trend – alongside producer Blake Mills, she’s created a sound that’s gritty and determined to avoid clichés.
Sara Watkins’ Sun Midnight Sun begins in “The Foothills” – a flurry of nearly Celtic-sounding fiddling. The instrumental could be an ode to the low green peaks that border her hometown of Vista, California, or the landscapes she’s seen in her travels. More likely, though, it’s an introduction to the ascent to come; the gentle but energetic climb into a record that hangs out high in the hills outside of town; just close enough so you can still see and feel the city, but far enough that there’s plenty of country air to breathe and sing.