With 26 Miles, Sean demonstrates a relaxed songwriting style that fits nicely into the genre-market popularized by recent artists John Mayer, Ryan Adams and Jason Mraz. Truthfully, these artists are the musical heirs to the legacy of Sting and James Taylor, musicians who are careful to let the song itself stand alone rather than saturating it with overproduction or instrumentation. Sean’s influences range from the Beatles and Toad the Wet Sprocket to David Gray and Aimee Mann.
On his vocal tracks, Watkins places tasteful instrumental fills in between his delicate vocals and deliberately chosen words, while on the instrumental tracks, Sean seems more comfortable exploring a more textured and layered sound, creating more exciting melodies, in my opinion, than any of the vocal tracks. That’s not to say that Sean doesn’t produce some strong melodic lines. On the album’s strongest track, “26 Miles,” Sean sounds remarkably like Ben Folds. Lyrically, Sean explores familiar territory, from love gone wrong (“On Ice”) to a deceptive lover (“Hiding”), but it’s how he highlights those tunes with tasteful fills and warm guitars that he shows his true talent. Perhaps as should be expected, Sean does commit the occasional lyrical felony. On “Hiding,” he sings, “Where are you hiding, my little troll beneath the bridge,” and unless you are Geddy Lee or Robert Plant, you should never reference a troll in your songwriting!
Sean’s core band is made up of a group of versatile jazz musicians with whom he jams with while on tour with Nickel Creek. They demonstrate their abilities most remarkably on the instrumental album cuts. For instance, the frolicking romp “N.M.I.” features a great interchange between Sean’s guitar and fiddle player Sara Watkins, while “Chutes and Ladders” showcases Sean's steel-string lead guitar dancing melodically with a soulful saxophone.
Watkins’ southern California sound is the ideal mood setting for an evening of lattes and conversation. His fluid lead guitar work and extremely talented backing band come together to entice the listener to sit back, relax and perhaps, I dunno, say, talk about something.
~Joe Del Re