Stands up against any Nickel Creek side project, and surpasses quite a few of them.

What to Fear
Artist: Sean Watkins
Family Hour Records

Sean Watkins has spent a number of years unjustifiably considered the third and least important member of Nickel Creek. His lesser known work with Mutual Admiration Society, Works Progress Administration, Fiction Family, and Watkins Family Hour put the lie to that sentiment, as does his solo release What to Fear.

Simply put, this is Watkins’ best solo work. It is also the most cynical and somber of his works. The title track is a blistering depiction of the government and media, while the vocals approach the falsetto of Nickel Creek bandmate Chris Thile. “Last Time for Everything” focuses on mistakes made in the past and the need for change.

“I Am What You Want” is one of two things: the anthem for every “nice guy but not datable”, or a creepy stalker song. Most seem to agree that is the latter.  “Everything” is a portrayal of someone who is finally willing to commit to love after a continual lack of that very thing. “Too Little Too Late” is another breakup song, and “Keep Your Promises II” serves as a sequel to the track from his previous output, All I Do is Lie. Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) guests on this late track.

Two songs in particular recall his Nickel Creek days: “Where You Were Living”, a bluegrass number, and “Local Honey”, an instrumental with sister Sara Watkins.

“Tribulation” is an apocalyptic gospel tune. The album closes with a cover of Glen Phillips’ “Back on My Feet”, which is excellent.

What to Fear is easily Watkins’ most fully fleshed out project, combining insightful and cutting lyrics with a musical tour de force. A bit like Elliott Smith lyrically at times, this disc deserves much more attention than it will receive. It stands up against any Nickel Creek side project, and surpasses quite a few of them.

Brian A. Smith

19 April 2016