For thirteen years, siblings Sara and Sean Watkins – best known as two-thirds of Nickel Creek – have been hosting a monthly “Watkins Family Hour” concert in L.A. Frequent collaborators include Fiona Apple and the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench, and they and more have finally recorded a debut album due out next week. It’s all covers, and the closing track is especially timely with the Grateful Dead just wrapping things up last week: the Dead’s American Beauty classic “Brokedown Palace.”
The amazing thing about this album is that it didn’t come sooner. An indie-Americana tribute to country/folk songwriter John Prine seems so inevitable. He may never have become a household name, but anyone who ever recorded a song with steel guitar or mandolin knows Prine. With bands like My Morning Jacket and the Avett Brothers spearheading an alt-country revival, Prine’s slyly sarcastic songs about love and life are due a second showing.
The artists who appear on Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine comprise a who’s-who of young folk/Americana bands, but these obvious admirers choose some very non-obvious tracks. The usual-suspect songs are largely missing in action. No “Paradise,” no “Sam Stone,” no “Illegal Smile.” The only no-duh selection is “Angel from Montgomery,” one of four songs from Prine’s self-titled debut. The rest span the gamut, dusting off tunes from the ‘80s and ‘90s alongside the canonical ‘70s material.