Sara Watkins, Janet Beveridge & Jim Elkington, Tristen | The Abbey | Folk & Country | Chicago Reader
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Sara Watkins, Janet Beveridge & Jim Elkington, Tristen 

When: Fri., May 8, 7:30 p.m. 2009
Price: $20, $17 in advance
Fiddler Sara Watkins, who got her start as a teenage wunderkind in Nickel Creek, has never been a purist, and her self-titled solo debut for Nonesuch mixes its bluegrass with pop and country in an impressive display of her catholic sensibilities. Produced by John Paul Jones (what’s with Led Zep vets gravitating toward hillbilly music?), it has a big-budget roots-rock sheen and a sensibility that loosely overlaps with that of the Grammy-winning collaboration between Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. Watkins’s solid if unspectacular original tunes, mostly about heartbreak and recovery, make up a little more than half the record, and the covers range from Jimmie Rodgers’s dawn-of-country number “Any Old Time” to later tunes by acoustic-music heavies like Norman Blake and John Hartford to Tom Waits’s idiosyncratic “Pony”; only her version of David Garza’s “Too Much” misses the mark, landing in adult-­contemporary turf. Watkins has a lovely voice—though I’d like it better if she scuffed it up a little—and her fiddle playing is uniformly superb. The arrangements are fleshed out by excellent players from LA (Benmont Tench, Greg Leisz, Jon Brion) and Nashville (Ronnie McCoury, Tim O’Brien, Claire Lynch) as well as both her old Nickel Creek bandmates (her brother Sean and Chris Thile), but they never upstage her. Janet Beveridge & Jim Elkington and Tristen open. —Peter Margasak

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