Sean Watkins- All I Do Is Lie (ALBUM REVIEW)

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seanwatkinsalbumNickel Creek co-founder Sean Watkins boasts a solid solo catalog of three prior albums, and the mournful All I Do Is Lie may be his best independent effort to date. Primarily a collection of gentle and accessible love songs, the album quietly addresses disharmony within dying relationships, examining the corrosion of ill-fated romances. Shifting from bluegrass-tinged ballads to soulful honky tonk dirges, Watkins explores disintegrating ties throughout the work, delivering and receiving heartbreak.  A few chipper affirmations of love peek through, but they’re ultimately outnumbered.

All I Do Is Lie opens with “Since The Day I Was Born”, a deceptively bouncy piece. In the song, Watkins lambasts a poisonous intimate and launches a running theme of separation, singing, “You’d like me to believe that we are one, and give in to this nightmare life’s become, where every thought is made of shame, and I forgot my real name….but you and I are not the same.”

Disunion resurfaces in a number of songs that follow. The fragile title track, “Don’t Say You Love Me” , “This Will End in Tears”,  and “ Made for TV Movie” are all meditations on severance, bristling with venomous barbs, cutting self-examination and harsh truths directed at soon-to-be ex lovers. These compositions send the heart reeling with a combination of crisp acoustic guitar, backing fiddle, and lush blue pedal steel.

The most powerful song on All I Do Is Lie doesn’t target a spurned or departed love interest, at least not directly. “The God You Serve” highlights the difficult contradictions of Christianity, tackling dissolution from the perspective of a skeptic.  “You say he’s fair and wants everybody there, but heaven won’t be home for us all,” Watkins ventures. “If you say that there are souls he won’t prepare, the God you serve dropped the ball.” This frank challenge packs a stinging punch, and it’s issued by a man who once contributed to the syrupy and still cringeworthy “Hand Song”—-a Nickel Creek composition extolling the sacrifices of Christ. A wash of organ notes accompanies the tune’s borderline blasphemies, making its refutations even bolder.

Musically, the album is beyond reproach. Watkins’ vanilla voice and sharp guitar reign supreme, bolstered by sleek production and tastefully interwoven supporting instruments. The result is best described as a mellow blend of Americana and pop, an un-definable hybrid coated in chart-friendly sugar.  Strong hooks elevate every song, providing a significant but unobtrusive foundation for Watkins’ thought-provoking lyrics.

Melodically and poetically sound, the latest release from Nickel Creek’s guitarist rivals the genre-blurring trio’s best work, easily surpassing the 2014 comeback album A Dotted Line. There are shades of Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks here, and plenty of pleasing material for those who expect substantive song craft. The album demands little from its listeners but delivers a great deal.

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