Meanwhile, back at the Hall of Justice. “Watson Twin powers…activate!” “Form of…a proper debut album!” “Shape of…things to come in the countrypolitan music scene!” Actually, that last statement is a bid of a mislead. Sure, this is the Watson Twins’ real debut album, but they’ve had an eight-song EP and, perhaps more famously, a featured role in Jenny Lewis’ solo debut. Lewis, who was easily well known enough to sell an album with her own name, chose instead to give second billing to this pair of siblings. They even featured prominently on the cover, standing in the hallway behind the red-dressed vixen like the pair of axe-murdered twins in The Shining. (Note: They also remind me of the singing Siamese twins in Carnivále, but that’s neither here nor there). Like the Spock-coifed Zan and Jana, the Watson Twins were helped out by their superfriends in Silverlake, but eventually had to escape the shadow of their former Wonder Woman-like mentor.
While Jenny Lewis went pop, embracing the glitz and glamour of L.A., the Watson Twins delved deeper into their own homey southern backwoods charm. Fire Songs is, above all else, dreamily organic. Chandra and Leigh, the Twins of Watson, used to sing along with their mother around the house growing up, and one gets the sense of that kind of homespun intimacy with this collection of songs. Each and every song takes its sweet and languorous time getting from point A to point B, and we are the beneficiaries of their sumptuous folky musical feasts. I was surprised to learn that my brother, a guy with a zillion thoughts running through his brain at once, got more work done listening to Iron & Wine than anything else. Well, now I can recommend Fire Songs as the next album to slow the synapses and focus the vision.
What I love about Fire Songs is that it is completely devoid of pretension, flash and excess. Every instrument is carefully thought out, as it seems one more might put the whole balance off kilter. Every bit of music perfectly stabilizes the smoky and sultry tones of the twins. The ’50s doo-wop mixed with country twang of opener “How Am I To Be” and “Map to Where You Are” prove that the duo can have as much fun with their leisurely approach as they do introspection. The slow burning tracks such as “Fall” and “Old Ways” are as riveting as they are relaxing. Of course, the song that is going to get the most attention here is their cover of “Just Like Heaven.” It’s not easy to pull off The Cure. I can count on one hand the covers I’ve really liked, but now I’m going to start having to use ol’ lefty. The Watsons not only succeed, but triumph in making the song their own, slowing the pace and essentially turning the song of joyous new love into one of idle fantasy. But I’d urge everyone to keep listening toward the close of the album, and in particular the songs “Bar Woman Blues” and “Only You.” The former finds the girls’ country roots coming into direct contact with their newly adopted home and its Laurel Canyon roots. The latter is one of the more methodical tracks on the record, intense in its meticulousness, its sparse opening allowing for a heart-rending buildup, and laying a sparkling foundation for the gorgeous harmonies of the twins.
Various names that have already found their way into articles about Chandra and Leigh include Linda Ronstadt, Natalie Merchant, Neil Young and Sandy Denny, obviously an incredible roster. I’d add Neko Case, Maria McKee, Margo Timmins and Emmylou Harris for good measure. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the album was produced by Russell Pollard (Sebadoh, Alaska!, Everest), who happens to be married to the one of the twins. He definitely brings an easygoing sensibility to the earthy affair, but it is the voices and songwriting of the twins that carries this album. In other words, the background singers have indeed become the front and center superheroes they were almost meant to be, and there isn’t a Gleek in sight to bungle it.
Natalie Merchant – The House Carpenter’s Daughter
Innocence Mission – Now the Day Is Over
Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Sessions