SARA WATKINS

Neighborhood Theatre & MaxxMusic present

SARA WATKINS

LILLY HIATT

Fri, May 12, 2017

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Neighborhood Theatre

Charlotte, NC

$25 adv/$28 dos

$3 Under 21 Surcharge at Door (Valid ID required for entry into venue. Under 18 permitted with parent.)

Accepted forms of ID: State Issued ID or Driver's License, Military ID, Passport.

General Admission - Open Seating 

 

SARA WATKINS
SARA WATKINS
Sara Watkins
Young in All the Wrong Ways
New West Records

“This is a breakup album with myself...” says Sara Watkins of her third solo record, Young in All the Wrong Ways. Writing and recording these ten intensely soul-baring songs was a means for her to process and mark the last couple years, which have been transformative. “I looked around and realized that in many ways I wasn’t who or where I wanted to be. It’s been a process of letting go and leaving behind patterns and relationships and in some cases how I’ve considered myself. What these songs are documenting is the turmoil you feel when you know something has to change and you’re grappling with what that means. It means you’re losing something and moving forward into the unknown.”

That sense of possibility infuses the songs on Young in All the Wrong Ways with a fierce and flinty resolve, which makes this her most powerful and revealing album to date. In some ways it’s a vivid distillation of the omnivorous folk-pop-bluegrass-indie-everything-else Watkins made with Nickel Creek, yet she makes audacious jumps that push against expectations in unexpected ways. These songs contain some of the heaviest moments of her career, with eruptions of thrumming B3 organ and jagged electric guitar. But it’s also quiet, vulnerable, tenderhearted. In other words, bold in all the right ways.

Recently Watkins found herself without a manager at the same time she was leaving the label that released her first two solo albums. For many artists that might be the worst possible time to enter the studio, but working without a net invigorated Watkins. It was important for her to document this time in her life when she was between professional contracts: free from the weight of obligation to anyone but herself. In that regard the tumultuous title track sounds like the first song of the rest of her life. Her backing band create a violent clamor, with Jon Brion’s sharp stabs of electric guitar punctuating the din and Jay Bellerose’s explosive drumming ripping at the seams of the song. In the chaos, however, Watkins finds clarity: “I’ve got no time to look back, so I’m going to leave you here,” she sings, with new grit and fire in her voice. “I’m going out to see about my own frontier.”

Fittingly, Watkins wrote or co-wrote every song on Young in All the Wrong ways—a first for her. Her previous albums have featured well-chosen covers that compliment her own songs and showcase her interpretive abilities. “I love singing other people’s songs, and originally I did plan to have a couple of covers on the album. But as we were recording and getting a picture of how everything fit together, it became apparent that the covers really stood apart from the story that was taking shape. I felt like I just had a little bit more to say. Everything is coming from me, so there’s a unified perspective on this album that’s different from what I’ve done before.”

Some are lonely and quiet: “Like New Year’s Day” describes in careful detail a trip out to the desert, and the low-key arrangement echoes the reassuring isolation of the southwestern landscape. Other songs are more extroverted, their volume and energy a means to reach out to friends and colleagues. “Move Me” opens as a loping pop song, but soon explodes into a walloping rocker as Watkins demands, in a voice that strains against composure, “I want you to move me!” It’s a time-stopping performance: Janis Joplin by way of Fleetwood Mac.

“That song is about relationships that have gone stagnant, how sometimes we just go about the process of making small talk in order not to stir anything up,” she says. “But it’s sad when you can’t have a meaningful conversation with people after a while. Even if they hurt you, you just want to feel something from them. You don’t relate to each other the same way as you once did, so you have to decide if you’re going to invite this person further into your life or just move on.”

Watkins knew just the right people to bring these tough-minded songs to life. She corralled longtime friend and fellow fiddler Gabe Witcher to produce, then put together a band that includes two of Witcher’s fellow Punch Brothers: guitarist Chris Eldridge and bass player Paul Kowert. Providing harmonies on the title track are Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, Watkins’ bandmates in I’m With Her, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket provides a vocal foil on “One Last Time.” “I’ve known these guys for a long time, so there’s a personal trust as well as a musical trust. I was able to put my heart and soul into these performances, in a way that I don’t think I would be able to if I was in a room full of strangers. It allowed me to give myself over to some of these very personal thoughts that are in the lyrics.”

To say these are personal lyrics might be an understatement. They’re beyond personal, whether she’s confessing some long-held regret or gently consoling a friend. Young in All the Wrong Ways ends with “Tenderhearted,” a quietly assured song that Watkins wrote about a few of her heroes: women like her Grandmother Nordstrom who have weathered hard times with grace and have provided Watkins with examples of how to live her life. “They’re women who have endured so much yet emerged with love, strength and kindness. I remember someone saying, It’s so sad how much she’s had to go through. And I remember thinking, That’s why she’s such an incredible person. She faced all those trials and came out the other side.”

Watkins would never be so bold as to count herself in their company; instead, she aspires to follow their example. But Young in All the Wrong Ways does reveal an artist who has managed to transform her own turmoil into music that is beautiful and deeply moving: “God bless the tenderhearted,” she sings, “who let life overflow.”
LILLY HIATT
LILLY HIATT
Royal Blue, the second album by East Nashville firebrand Lilly Hiatt, is about the majesty of melancholy—or, as she explains it, “accepting the sadder aspects of life and finding some peace in them.” A dance between pedal steel and synths, the album examines the vagaries of love and commitment but steadfastly refuses to romanticize any notion of romance. Singing in a barbed lilt full of deep worry and gritty determination in equal measure, she conveys emotions too finely shaded to be easily named, yet will be familiar to any listener who’s had their heart broken—or has broken a heart.

This is, in other words, not a well-behaved singer-songwriter album. Instead, it’s feisty and rough-around-the-edges, full of humor and bite and attitude from a woman who proclaims, “I’d rather throw a punch than bat my eye.” Royal Blue hints at autobiography without sounding self-absorbed, as Lilly transforms a rough patch of life into smart, sturdy, sometimes even hilarious songs that don’t sit squarely in any one genre. Instead, Royal Blue reaches out boldly and playfully into many different sounds and styles: Austin folk rock, Pacific Northwest indie, pre-Oasis Britpop, New York punk ca. 1977. There are ‘90s alt guitars and ’00 indie synths, some twang and some Neko Case and Kim Deal.

Setting the tone for the album, “Far Away” marries a shimmery Cure synth theme to a steady rock-and-roll backbeat, as Lilly explains the devastating realities of a love gone sour: “I have never felt more far away than when you were right here.” When she delivers a volley of ooo-ooo-ooohs on the coda, it’s hard to tell whether she’s lamenting her loss or proclaiming her freedom. Even at its most personal, Royal Blue remains complicated and often contradictory. The surging surf-country number “Machine” hints at rebellious adolescence while “Somebody’s Daughter” is a nod to Lilly’s songwriting father, John Hiatt.
Lilly’s songs are equal parts romantic autopsy and acid kiss-off to a dismissive lover. He shows up again on the fidgety “Get This Right,” with its insistent drum patter, churning guitars, and anthemic chorus. “When you turn your lamp off, please hear my sweet, soft voice,” Lilly sings over the gentle acoustic strums and Doppler-effect synths on “Your Choice.” Then she adds, with startling finality, “You made your choice.” Royal Blue is not your typical break-up album, though. Lilly would rather rock than mope.

To say she comes by it naturally shouldn’t imply that it’s all easy for her. Her father is a famously eclectic singer-songwriter whose tunes have been covered by Emmylou Harris, Nick Lowe, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan, among others. Living just outside of Nashville, he provides gentle counsel and sage advice to his daughter. “I’d be a fool not to take it,” she says. “We have a really good relationship, and there’s a lot of trust there, so I feel comfortable talking to him about certain songwriting predicaments. I played him some songs I was trying to write, and he said, these are really good, but it sounds like you’re trying to do something different. You don’t have to come up with special chords or anything. Why don’t you just be you? That was simple advice, but good advice.”

Lilly being herself means playing songs that are sharply witty, brutally frank, and musically adventurous. In that regard, her backing band has proved crucial in helping her realize her full potential as a songwriter and performer. The group has been playing and touring with her for years, and they played on her 2012 debut, Let Down. “We’re tougher now with a new confidence in our playing,” she says of the band, which includes Beth Finney on lead guitar, Jake Bradley on bass, Luke Schneider on pedal steel guitar and Jon Radford on drums.

It helps that they all share a love of ‘90s alt-rock bands, which comes through in the distressed guitars, the urgent backbeats, and the post-punk synths. Lilly cites the Pixies and the Breeders as influences on this record, as well as Dinosaur Jr. and—her all-time faves—Pearl Jam. The group recorded these dozen songs at Playground Sound, a small studio located in producer Adam Landry’s backyard in Nashville.

“I know Adam and am a fan of his work,” Lilly says. “I also knew he did analog recording, which excited me. I wanted to try that.” She chose Landry because he was a versatile rock producer who has worked with Deer Tick, T. Hardy Morris of Dead Confederate, and Hollis Brown. “Sometimes I think it might be easy to take my songs to Twang Town, if someone wanted to, but they’re not country songs. I had a feeling Adam would bring out other things in the music. Which is exactly what he did.”

In the studio, Adam credits Lilly with being game for anything: “She would be playing electric guitar with her band, and I’d be in the control room running the tape machine. I had an old KORG polysynth plugged into a Memory Man. I reached over and started playing it, and she didn’t miss a beat. She’d just go with it. She trusted me and was open-minded, and I think that helped create that sort of late ‘80s/early ‘90s vibe on the record.” But it all comes down to the songs themselves. “A killer backing track and a killer vocal can be totally ruined by really stupid lyrics,” says Adam, who was drawn to the stark candor of Lilly’s songwriting. “She’s just real honest. That’s the big thing here.”

“That’s the only way I know how to write as of now,” she admits. “Maybe that will change, because writing always does, and maybe I’ll learn to take myself out of it a little more and embellish the details. But right now I don’t know any other way. I hope people don’t think, wow, she really has some issues. But you know what? If they do, that’s fine, too. I have a hard time saying a lot of things in life, so it’s easier to do it through the song. It’s a healthy coping process for me.”
Venue Information:
Neighborhood Theatre
511 East 36th Street
Charlotte, NC, 28205
http://www.neighborhoodtheatre.com/