Sean Watkins brings the bluegrass, the Bee Eaters groom it with classical-leaning chamber music and the resultant This is Who We Are defies characterization.
Watkins, of Nickel Creek, and the trio – cellist Tristan Clarridge of Crooked Still, his fiddling sister Tashina Clarridge and Simon Chrisman on hammer dulcimer – wrote seven originals for their first collaborative LP and round it out with covers of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” and Warren Zevon’s “Suzie Lightning,” on which Watkins sounds so much like Jackson Browne it’s spooky.
Ditto “Oil on Canvas,” on which Watkins sings:
It’s the jealous brothers of the favorite son/it’s the nation that believes it’s No. 1/it’s the system that just doesn’t work anymore/ain’t it good to know it’s all been done before
Watkins plugs in an electric guitar on “Oil” and the title track, adding another element of surprise to This is Who We Are. But it is the two instrumentals – “Big 5” and the eight-minute closer, “Peninsula” – that find the hybrid quartet most seamlessly weaving its hybrid music into a soothing sonic wrap.