Under the careful production of Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, singer-songwriter Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek, now on hiatus) shines on her self-titled solo debut, which combines country, bluegrass, pop and some Irish-inspired moments in a mix that's as seamless as it is enjoyable. Watkins opens with the beautiful "All This Time," a slow ballad that sets the album's tone. She surprises on "Freiderick," an instrumental that immediately brings Ireland to mind. Her take on Jimmie Rodgers' "Any Old Time" features a jazz-country feel reminiscent of old-school Nashville, complete with fiddle and lap steel guitar solos. But she doesn't seem able to fully embrace Tom Waits' "Pony," which falls a little flat in spite of Jon Brion's gorgeous guitar solo. But all is forgotten once you get to "Bygones," an uptempo country instrumental and the powerful ballad "Where Will You Be." — Ernest Barteldes
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