The Watson Twins - Fire Songs

The Watson Twins
Fire Songs

(Vanguard)

First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2008, Volume 15, #6

Written by John Metzger

Thu June 26, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT

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The Watson Twins seems to have sprung out of nowhere. Yet, no one really appears to know who its principal members Chandra and Leigh Watson really are, what they are capable of doing, or what they even want to do with their collective career. Considering that their claim to fame, thus far, has been to collaborate with the indie world’s "it" gal Jenny Lewis on Rabbit Fur Coat, it would be easy to greet The Watson Twins’ full-length debut Fire Songs with a healthy amount of skepticism. After all, the hype that has surrounded the group has been overpowering, despite the fact that, save for its work with Lewis, the outfit until recently has had only the eight-song, self-released EP Southern Manners in its arsenal.

Interestingly, Fire Songs isn’t much longer than Southern Manners, though its music deviates from the blueprint that would have been natural for The Watson Twins to follow. Southern Manners largely was considered a foray into country-soul fare, one that routinely was compared to the early outings of Neko Case. Beneath the surface, Fire Songs isn’t a huge departure for the group. There are, for example, a few washes from a pedal steel guitar that drift though several of its tracks, and at times, the arrangements are drawn from the same Americana-oriented blend of folk, country, bluegrass, and gospel that dominated Rabbit Fur Coat. More often than not however, The Watson Twins casts aside all expectations by transporting its roots-y beginnings to the arena of indie rock and pop. It’s telling, for example, that the duo opted to cover The Cure’s Just Like Heaven, and sure enough, the tune’s presence provides a solid indication of the direction the outfit opted to take with its new endeavor.

In hindsight, there were hints tucked inside Rabbit Fur Coat that The Watson Twins wasn’t necessarily wedded to the sounds that typically have emanated from its home state of Kentucky. The fact that Lewis penned the songs for the outing, however, made it difficult to assess where her influence ended and the impact that The Watson Twins had on the material began. If anything, it seemed as if the duo had been selected specifically to draw Lewis away from the indie-pop for which she largely was known. This, however, proves (at least in part) to have been a red herring. In fact, the visions of Lewis and the Watsons are remarkably identical, and with Fire Songs, this is more apparent than ever.

Building upon Melt Your Heart’s subdued framework and You Are What You Love’s unwavering infectiousness — two of the least roots-imbued moments on Rabbit Fur Coat — The Watson Twins uses Fire Songs to present a mirror image of conventional wisdom’s perspective of what its work should be. Initially, though, the set leaves a rather indistinct impression. In a fashion that is far too typical of indie-minded endeavors, the give-and-take between The Watson Twins’ vocals and the supporting instrumentation exudes a detached air that threatens, at times, to suffocate the material. Nevertheless, the duo ought not be underestimated because the more that Fire Songs is heard, the more that its icy exterior begins to melt away, revealing the intricacies of its construction.

The Watson Twins, for example, slows down the tempo of The Cure’s Just Like Heaven, and in embracing the song’s tragic beauty, the duo evokes the aqueous calm of death upon the rolling sea. From its winding, 12-string guitar introduction to the cushion of horns that gently supports its mid-section, Map to Where You Are crosses The Byrds with The Mamas and The Papas, while How Am I to Be is an updated version of The Shangri-Las’ girl-group-style of pop. Elsewhere, the twinkling, luminescent glow of Lady Love Me easily could pass for something by Rilo Kiley, while within the melancholy, drugged-out haziness of Fall, the duo manages to bring together Kathleen Edwards, Dusty Springfield, and The Beatles.

It actually is easier now to see what drew Lewis to The Watson Twins. Fire Songs is a lovely affair that is as haunting as it is mesmerizing. It may be sacrilege in some circles to say, but with the help of producers Russell Pollard and J. Soda, The Watson Twins may have even found a way to beat Lewis at her own game. starstarstar ½

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Of Further Interest...

Azure Ray - Hold On Love

Neko Case - Fox Confessor Brings the Flood

Rilo Kiley - Under the Blacklight

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Fire Songs is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!

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Ratings

1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!

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Copyright © 2008 The Music Box