By Greg Cahill
In this Acoustic Guitar Sessions video, Sean Watkins discusses his 2016 album What to Fear (Thirty Tigers), his fifth solo album, and performs two songs from the album, “Where You Were Living” and “What to Fear,” as well as the bitter break-up song “Somebody More Like You,” from the Nickel Creek album Why Should the Fire Die.
He is joined in the AG studio by vocalist Dominique Arciero and cellist Tristan Clarridge of the Bee Eaters.
Here is a recent AG review of What to Fear:
On the title track of What To Fear, Sean Watkins’ choirboy tenor soars over his spiraling dreadnought as he sings, “There’s no one in this dark world you can trust—except for us.”
Don’t believe him.
The song’s narrator, a cynical newscaster, is one of several shady personae Watkins adopts on this set, which blends the breezy fiddles and chiming dulcimers of acoustic trio the Bee Eaters with the chunky swagger of a rock rhythm section. Like his 2014 solo release All I Do Is Lie, this collection takes a meticulous, singer-songwriter approach to first person narratives, but here the protagonists are often unreliable.
On “I Am What You Want,” Watkins’ delicate Gibson lulls as he laments a distant, standoffish beloved. But, as dissonant fiddles sigh, it slowly dawns that our lovesick singer is an unhinged stalker.
Gossamer mandolin counterpoints martial drums on “Tribulations” where Watkins slips into the skin of a fire-and-brimstone preacher plunging into blinkered psychosis.
Watkins’ weighty concerns are balanced by buoyant arrangements, and he tempers social commentary with voices presumably closer to his own. As his wide, woody Martin D18 dives into a surge of strings, he sings of surrendering his heart to risk, sorrow, and a glimmer of the divine on “Everything,” and on the jostling newgrass instrumental “Local Honey,” Watkins’ jangling Martin Tenor break is a carefree nod to his work with Nickel Creek.
With What To Fear, Watkins dares to hope. Confronting chaos in the mirror, he offers muted optimism that we’ll embrace our better angels.
What To Fear