The Watson Twins - Talking To You, Talking To Me
Record Label: Vanguard
Release Date: Feb. 9. 2010
Gossamer. That's the best way to describe the new album by The Watson Twins. Like strings of gossamer and gauze, Talking To You, Talking To Me is a supple, soothing effort that's relaxed, reflective and decidedly old-school. After a full year touring in support of their critically-lauded effort Fire Songs, the duo returned to the studio with producers Russell Pollard, J. Soda and members of Everest and My Morning Jacket to record this 13-song collection of classic soul, bossa nova and indie pop.
The disc begins with the light rattle of drums, gentle guitar and cooing vocals. "Modern Man is earthy, organic and folk-inspired and a near-perfect way to start an incredibly inspired, and sometimes disappointing effort. Second track, "Harpeth River" introduces an organ, an instrument that plays a prominent part in much of the 10 remaining songs. Anchored by said organ, Leigh and Chandra offer up their version of 1960s Memphis blues. It's a move that is so exquisitely executed one can't help but wonder if they had this kind of thing up their sleeve the whole time. What follows is "Forever Me," a classic torch song a la Dusty Springfield that has a lilting Korg and an ethereal charm that's spartan, simple and nothing short of stunning. On the heels of that is "Midnight," which opens with a ringing organ and a guitar solo and moves along in a manner that seems more fit for 1960 than than of 2010.
The Fleetwood Mac-inspired "Savin' You" is a fun, bouncy number that's catchy, cute and charismatic. Of the dozen songs, this is probably the only one that stands a chance at radio, but even that feels a bit too optimistic. A swirl of bells and drums opens the celestial "Brave One," which allows Leigh and Chandra to offer up their soulful harmonies and their unending flair for languorous pop. The full-scale torch ballad "Devil In You" comes next and is supported by grand arrangements, barrels of passion and enough guts and grit to make Aretha Franklin blush.
Kicking it down a few notches, the bare and aching "Snow Canyons," is so unabashedly poignant and earnest it has the hissing sting of an open wound. Without question, it is definitively one of 2010's best songs released thus far. And then, like a car careening off the road, Talking To You Talking To Me dips dramatically and offers up two consecutive throwaways. The hokey "Tell Me Why" is a waste of time despite a gleaming piano line, while "Calling Out" is distant, barely felt and banal. In an attempt to atone for said mistakes, they offer up two of the album's best. "Give Me a Chance" is a desperate Memphis valentine with tense energy that seems destined for a late-night honky-tonk on some dusty backroad. Whereas "U N Me," is a leave-it-all-on-the-table rocker that drips with sweat, passion and grit.
And it is those three attributes that make Talking To You, Talking to Me so difficult to sit with. For all the classic torch songs, for all the sweetly infectious 1960s girl group harmonies and for all its beautiful and stark moments, the disc still feels undeniably sleepy and safe. With the exception of a few choice cuts, there's a decided lack of oomph and energy at work here. There seems to be an over-reliance on tones and textures and not enough on gusto and kinesis.
Leigh and Chandra can sing, there's no denying that. One listen to Rabbit Fur Coat proves exactly that. But captivating vocals have to do more than just let the mood and texture do all the talking. And while that may or may not be what Leigh and Chandra set out to achieve, it still leaves one wondering if perhaps the Watson Twins might have veered a little too far off course.