It's hard to believe that for all the years Sara Watkins and her brother Sean have inhabited Los Angeles' Largo at the Coronet with their Watkins Family Hour revue, they've yet to release an actual album to document the Vaudeville-meets-Appalachia-meets-Hollywood monthly residency. That all changes July 24th, when the Nickel Creek siblings will release Watkins Family Hour — composed entirely of covers — with a little help from their friends Fiona Apple, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' keyboardist Benmont Tench, bassist Sebastian Steinberg and more.
"For the last 12 years the Watkins family hour has been a live show that we did almost exclusively at Largo in L.A. with the help of some of our very favorite musicians and friends," Sean Watkins tells Rolling Stone Country. "It's something that my sister Sara and I are very passionate about. We couldn't be more excited to release this record and to be taking it on the road with Fiona and the band this summer."
True to a project that's always been based around the live show, the Watkins troupe will indeed embark on a tour that begins, appropriately, at the Newport Folk Festival. Making stops across the country and recruiting musicians in each city, they play to build a true "Watkins Family Hour" experience. If past guests like Dawes and Jackson Browne are any indication, expect a pretty thrilling crew for songs like Fleetwood Mac's "Steal Your Heart Away" and Skeeter Davis's "Where I Ought to Be," performed on the record by Sara and Apple. Earlier this year, the Idler Wheel singer also partnered with Sean on the bluegrass standard "Banks of the Ohio," proving that you don't have to be born a Watkins to become part of the family.
Continuing the close-knit network, there's also a version of Robert Earl Keen's "Feelin' Good Again," which reunites the two just shortly after Sara's appearance on Keen's bluegrass tribute, Happy Prisoner. Other choices on the LP include "Not in Nottingham," from Disney's 1973 animated Robin Hood, and the Grateful Dead's "Brokedown Palace," which Sara Watkins has preformed with Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion (where she's been a frequent guest.) In fact, most of the songs have been plucked straight out of the Watkins Family Hour regular repertoire, capturing a snapshot of what that little Los Angeles club might have sounded like on any given month.
It comes across loud and clear on "Steal Your Heart Away," which features Sara's crisp vocals on the 2003 Fleetwood Mac track and chugs along with slinky steel guitar and her signature lyrical fiddle. (Listen to the track below.) It's more a roadmap of what to expect live than a definitive version — playfully loose thanks to recording the Watkins Family Hour live in-studio in only three days.
Listen to "Steal Your Heart Away," below, which is now also available on iTunes. Watkins Family Hour will be released July 24th on Family Hour Records via Thirty Tigers.
WATKINS FAMILY HOUR TRACK LIST
1. Feelin' Good Again (written by Robert Earl Keen, lead vocals by Sara Watkins)
2. Where I Ought to Be (written by Harlan Howard, lead vocals by Fiona Apple and Sara Watkins)
3. Not in Nottingham (written by Roger Miller, lead vocals by Sean Watkins)
4. Steal Your Heart Away (written by Lindsey Buckingham, lead vocals by Sara Watkins)
5. Prescription for the Blues (written by Saunders Montgomery, lead vocals by Benmont Tench)
6. Going Going Gone (written by Bob Dylan, lead vocals by Sean Watkins)
7. Hop High (traditional, arranged by Watkins Family Hour, lead vocals by Sara Watkins)
8. She Thinks I Still Care (written by Dickey Lee Lipscomb, lead vocals by Sebastian Steinberg)
9. The King of the 12 Oz. Bottles (written by Lee Ving, lead vocals by Don Heffington)
10. Early Morning Rain (written by Gordon Lightfoot, lead vocals by Sara Watkins)
11. Brokedown Palace (written by Robert C. Hunter and Jerry Garcia, lead vocals by Sara Watkins)