Bumbershoot Guide

Country Echoes

The Watson Twins vs. Jenny Lewis's Pop Specter

Bumbershoot Guide

Chances are you first heard of the Watson Twins as the backup artists on Jenny Lewis's 2006 album Rabbit Fur Coat, and Leigh Watson doesn't see anything wrong with that: "What a great way to be introduced to people."

The Twins are back home in Louisville, Kentucky, visiting family, and Leigh's voice sounds relaxed and happy over the phone. She can't say enough good things about working with Lewis. "[Rabbit Fur Coat] came together really well, and we had such a great time touring with her. We didn't know what the response would be, but it led to a year of touring. It was like the dream tour. I think Jenny's a great person and singer and," she pauses for a beat, unable to think of anything to add, and so she says "just a great person" again and laughs at her own effusiveness.

To be sure, the Watson Twins added layers to Lewis's album that even an accomplished genre-sampling band like Rilo Kiley couldn't have. Chandra and Leigh Watson's gospel-style backup filled everything out and somehow made Lewis's solo album feel more personal, less like The Jenny Lewis Project and more like a memoir with Southern gothic undertones.

And the yearlong tour definitely boosted sales on Southern Manners, the Twins' first, self-released EP. But, as even a cursory listen to Manners will tell you, the Twins are truly old-school roots performers, as country as they want to be. Performing with Lewis might have improved their visibility, but it means that the Twins are still generally unknowns to the audience that by all rights should be their devoted followers: folk, roots, and country listeners.

That's a shame for several reasons, but the primary one is that Southern Manners is one of the best country CDs to be released in the last few years. When I tell Leigh that I can hear George Jones somewhere on the EP, but I can't quite seem to peg the exact instance, she laughs.

"I think that old country comes out in our music a lot," she explains. "We grew up listening to George Jones and Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris." She's quick to add that they were also influenced by early '90s Louisville alt-country and rock bands. "Slint and the Palace Brothers and Love Jones were making music when we were growing up, and you can hear them in there, too."

But it's the country echoes that make the EP essential listening, especially the echoes of the outlaw country of the 1970s. The fact that the Twins are basically their own label and promotional machine adds to the charm, as does their fondness for vintage recording techniques: "A lot of the sounds we're getting out of the old equipment are really warm and organic," Leigh says. She then gets so wonky talking about analog equipment and two-inch reels that I can't begin to follow. "We want people to feel enveloped and warm in our music. We've loved recording that way, even though I'm sure that we'll wind up being brainwashed into using Pro Tools one day."

Bumbershoot comes at an interesting time for the Twins: "It'll sort of be a preview of our upcoming tour. We've got an album coming out in January, so we've got lots of new material. Bumbershoot will be a preview of our new songs, and we'll throw in some covers that we love, too."

Leigh says that the new, as-yet-unnamed album will differ from the EP: "The EP was a collection of songs that we felt like we had to get out, but it felt like we were recording a cohesive record this time. We've got everything from country to '60s bebop on it, but it's still our sound. It'll sound like the Watson Twins to the second power." She stops to think about what she just said, laughs, and adds, "Which I guess would mean it'll sound like there are suddenly four of us."

But there's no need to worry that the Twins will drop their country-gospel sound anytime soon. You can move the woman to Silverlake, but you can't get the country out of her. When I ask if I'll get to talk to Chandra, Leigh apologizes: "She's back in the house with Grandma," she says, and she explains in a Kentucky twang, "We're gonna have a barbecue tonight." recommended

 

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