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Sara WatkinsSara Watkins
Album: Young In All The Wrong Ways
Label: New West
Tracks: 10

This ain't really what you'd expect from Nickel Creek founder member Sara! For on this self-styled "breakup album with myself", she steps boldly back into the solo spotlight, sans-fiddle and plugging in her electric guitar, with a collection of ten tough-minded, emotionally charged self-penned (or co-written) songs that lay bare her soul, surrounded by enterprising, expectation-defying and cleverly orchestrated arrangements (production by Gabe Witcher).

Although the backing crew includes long-time associates from Punch Brothers (Chris Eldridge and Paul Kowert), as well as Jim James, Jon Brion and Jay Bellerose and Sara's I'm With Her colleagues Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O'Donovan, Sara's own increasingly powerful voice takes the legitimate centre-stage. She struts her rock-goddess stuff on the thrusting opener (the album's title song), then follows with a masterstroke, the queasy delicacy of The Love That Got Away, its soundscape dominated by restless keyboard work and brushed percussion.

More familiar territory comes with a delicious guitar hook ushering in the flicked-upright-bass cute-country-rockabilly-styled One Last Time, while the pulsating Move Me brings Sara's voice back to the powerhouse for a soulful pleading ballad with a momentarily softer centre and crashing guitar break. There's a clutch of softer, more yearning songs scattered through the disc, among them the disc highlight - the beautiful, hushed late-Emmylou-like Invisible (which has something of the magic aura of the McGarrigles' Matapedia).

Gently lilting finale Tenderhearted lingers (albeit for not quite long enough perhaps) on the reflective mood which began earlier on the wistful, organ-flecked Like New Year's Day. Then, down at track 8, Sara then throws us all with a brilliant recreation of old-school honky-tonk twang (piano, crooning fiddle and stride-beat) on The Truth Won't Set Us Free, complete with Parton-esque vocal. Now there's a candidate for instant and constant replay! (Old in all the right ways, dare I say?!)

David Kidman