listening booth: sean watkins, “blinders on”

Written by Music


Sean Watkins – Blinders On (2006)
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Sean Watkins - Blinders On

Sean Watkins is the guitarist for Nickel Creek, which, if you’ve listened to any of the pop/folk/bluegrass trio’s albums, tells you a lot of what you need to know about Blinders On going in. “Relentlessly eclectic” is probably the shortest, best description of the condition Watkins and his cohorts aspire to.

This sort of blinding, slapdash experimentalism is apt to miss as often as it hits, but for NPR listeners bored with Putamayan folk, it tends to be a convincing enough proxy for above-average creativity. And honestly, the Nickel Creek kids are way above average — in fact, as instrumentalists, they are some serious hot shit. It’s just that, as songwriters, they haven’t quite caught up with themselves yet.

Enter Blinders On, Watkins’ third solo outing. In terms of sound and feel, it’s vaguely similar to Nickel Creek’s last album, which is to say it makes a show of trying to drag tradgrass into the twenty-first century; loops and canned effects rub shoulders with actual strings and keys, and in pretty much every song, there seems to be an awful lot going on. On first listen, the album is actually a bit of an irritating, unwieldy mess — all these extra gewgaws often serve no discernible purpose — but once you let the songs settle in, Blinders starts making sense. In a weird way, it’s sort of the first modern folk headphone record.

It’s too diffuse an overall listening experience to sum up with only a pair of songs, but listen to “I Say Nothing” (download) and “They Sail Away” (download) to get a slight feel for what’s going on in here.