Sara Watkins – Under The Pepper Tree
Multi-instrumentalist Watkins has recorded an album of standards for children….no, no please bear with me it’s wonderful. I must admit on getting the brief from the magazine I wondered what I’d done to upset the mothership. However parking all reservations I dipped in. Covers can be a corruption of your favourite memories but if you look at the track listing it’s certain that at one time or another you’ll have sung several if not all of the songs on the album. If you’re a parent you may have also crooned these songs to placate a fractious offspring in the backseat or as you lie on a bed in the early evening, fighting the pulling powers of sleep, whilst your little precious shows no signs of wearying.
Watkins has a beautiful ethereal voice that immediately sounds like a mother singing to a child with all the tenderness that might have. She’s joined by several guests throughout including Nickel Creek and I’m With Her on a couple of songs. The arrangements are delightful and the sound is acoustic, lush and entirely enchanting. The album progresses seamlessly with the mood maintained throughout as if raising the volume or changing the gentle acoustic accompaniment might spoil the moment (or wake the child).
It’s an age old eclectic selection of songs ranging from The Beatles (“Goodnight)”, Harry Nilsson (“Blanket For A Sail”), Disney films (“When You Wish Upon A Star” and “La La Lu”) and Rodgers and Hammerstein (“Edelweiss” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”). Two songs are original compositions; several of the rest have become standards because of their original performance on the silver screen. It’s easy to imagine this whole album as some sort of soundtrack. It is the quality of the melodies that are the lasting impression and the aspect that makes this enduring rather than a one off project for a younger audience.
After starting at a young age in the music industry Watkins made her name in Nickel Creek where terrific string musicianship and vocals ensured their permanent place in the pantheon of premier roots folk acts. They split permanently over a decade ago but occasional reunions are common and she regularly plays with one of the band members, her brother, Sean. Other projects including touring as part of The Decemberists and the trio, I’m With Her. It wasn’t a big stretch to follow another muse, not least as the mother of a toddler. It’s beautiful.