Sara Watkins last performed at Whelan’s eighteen months ago as part of I’m With Her, the trio comprised of fellow singer songwriters and musicians Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan. This project resulted in solo albums this year from all three artists and a change in musical direction in particular for Sara Watkins and Sarah Jarosz who both temporarily abandoned their bluegrass roots to concentrate on more country/folk confessional albums.
Tonight’s show by Watkins in the main concentrated on material from her current solo album Young In All The Wrong Ways while also including some of her solo back catalogue, older Nickel Creek material and a few well-chosen cover songs.
Being a solo concert I have to admit to having preconceived concerns as to how the material from the latest album would come across as it is quite instrumentally populated. Any reservation I may have had were swiftly set aside by Watkins, leaving me with an impression that the material possibly even works better in a live setting that the studio versions.
The stage in Whelan’s tonight featured one mike, four instruments and a Vox speaker located centre stage behind Watkins. Renowned for her technical prowess as a multi-instrumentalist it should not have been a surprise that she utilised different individual instruments, fiddle, ukulele and acoustic guitar on her first three songs. Opening with Too Much from her self-titled debut album and following with You and Me from Sun Midnight Sun the majority of the remaining set featured material from her current album played to a large attendance in an atmosphere where you could hear a pin drop during songs. So much so that during her vocal delivery of Without A Word the only audible sound accompanying her in the room was the creaking of hinges when the door between the public bar and venue was opening, prompting Watkins to add tongue in cheek "Halloween must last a week in Ireland, that was the spookiest sounding door in the world."
The new songs worked wonderfully even when stripped to the bone, The Truth Won’t Set Us Free retained its studio honky-tonk sound and both Invisible and Move Me gave Watkins the opportunity to reveal her flawless vocal range.
Her stage demeanour was confident, talkative, good humoured and happy to relay tales of a scary drive earlier in the week from Sligo to Cork on "windy roads that challenged two Americans not accustomed to driving on the left-hand side of the road". However, what really won the day was her musical ability on all instruments including her Gibson guitar, christened Tom based on an unknown previous owner who had posted his name on the instrument and her luscious vocal delivery throughout.
Almost in anticipation of a question from the audience in respect of her change in direction on her latest offering she explained how she felt that going forward she would have regretted having gotten stuck in a certain style and needed to adapt both musically and lyrically on the album to"consider exactly who I am."
Also included in the set was the Nickel Creek 'Whistling Song' Anthony, a wonderful cover of Young Man in America by Anais Mitchell, name checked by Watkins as one of her favourite songwriters and John Hartford’s Long Hot Summer Days. She finished the set with the title track from the latest album and the closing and quite beautiful track Tenderhearted, dedicated to all the understated social workers and carers out there.
An encore of Buddy Hollys Early in the Morning completed what was an outstanding evening’s entertainment by a young lady approaching her prime yet also with the potential to offer so more musically going forward. Certainly also worth a mention is opening act Clara Rose who also went down a storm. Monaghan born Rose has a voice soaked in blues and played a thirty minute set that complimented what was to follow.
Review and photography by Declan Culliton