Album Review- The Watson Twins – “Holler”

photo: Elizabeth Baker

There is little to nothing more foundational and eternal to country and roots music than the evocation of blood harmonies, especially via singing sisters. It commenced with The Carter Family, and has been secured through the generations through sister duos and trios. When those sisters are identical twins, the results can be especially spine tingling.

If you’ve been around roots music for a while, then you know The Watson Twins, because they’ve been around for a while too. Born in Tulsa and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Chandra and Leigh Watson have been singing together in public spaces for going on 25 years. But despite their deep Southern roots, the story of The Watson Twins has always been just as much entwined with indie rock as country.

After attending college in Indiana, the sisters moved to the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, known for being a bastion for indie rock. For a spell they performed in a band called Slydell. But it’s when indie rock star and former Rilo Kiley front woman Jenny Lewis decided to incorporate them as part of her first solo album Rabbit Fur Coat that the twins became a significant part of the popular musical consciousness.

The debut EP from The Watson Twins called Southern Manners was also released in conjunction with Rabbitt Fur Coat. It’s because of this proximity that the music of The Watson Twins has always seemed just as much an animal of Los Angeles indie rock as anything resembling country, keeping some in the country audience at arms length. Similarly, Jenny Lewis and other bands in that scene such as My Morning Jacket, M. Ward, and Connor Oberst have also existed on the country side of indie rock, incorporating roots elements like steel guitar into their sound.

Enter the seventh record from The Watson Twins, and their first in five years called Holler. Though still decidedly alt-country with some indie rock character, Holler in many respects fulfills the desires of their country and Americana admirers to do something a little more tethered to the duo’s Southern and country roots, while still staying true to themselves and the host of influences they bring to the table.

Produced by Butch Walker, Holler is a spirited, inspired, engaging, and enjoyable work by these two women that makes for a great entry point for any listener, and perhaps a crowning achievement of their catalog. Not to discredit any of their other previous works, but with Holler, they seem to get the balance of their sometimes disparate influences right, and in a way that even may make you appreciate their previous music even more.

You can hear the subtle changes between the two versions of their song “Southern Manners”—the first of which appeared on their debut 8-song EP, and put extra emphasis on the watery organ part, while the new one doubles up on their sister harmonies. “Two Timin'” has been featured in their live show for a while, and gets outright twangy. Holler was the perfect place for the song to land.

Combine that with the Gospel-esque title track, the swaying and emotional moments of the waltz-timed “Never Be Another You,” and the the half-timed Outlaw-tinged “Honky Tonk Heart,” and you have a record that’s way more country than whatever the hell they’re playing on country radio these days. “Honky Tonk Heart” is specifically about The Watson Twins closing up shop in Los Angeles, and making their home in Nashville where they’re now proudly based.

Since collaboration has often been at the heart of what The Watson Twins do, it’s sometimes easy to lose them in the shuffle, similar to The Sadies. But on Holler, you feel like you get the full breadth of what The Watson Twins are all about, bridging their country roots with rock sensibilities, centering strong songwriting, and of course, showcasing harmonies that make the music soar and your heart swoon.

Holler was released on the newly-launched Bloodshot Records.


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