The Watson Twins Turn Toward Country on Holler

Twin sisters can sing, but the songs don’t always do them justice

Music Reviews The Watson Twins
The Watson Twins Turn Toward Country on Holler

It’s no wonder everyone wants to work with the Watson Twins: Sisters Chandra and Leigh have an unerring instinct for vocal harmony that enhances whatever song they’re singing. Their stunning voices have landed them gigs with acts including Billy Bragg, Vanessa Carlton, CeeLo Green, Kings of Leon, My Morning Jacket, Willie Nelson and, perhaps most notably, Jenny Lewis, who gave them co-billing on her 2006 album Rabbit Fur Coat.

When they’re not lending their voices to other artists, the Watson Twins keep busy with their own career. They’ve released a half-dozen or so albums, including Holler, their latest. Produced by Butch Walker, it’s a foray into a gospel-country sound that seeks the middle ground between vintage and modern on 10 new songs. The highlight throughout is the sisters’ harmonies. They raise their voices into a rousing chorus on the title track, a church-worthy love-your-neighbor song with a blustery slide guitar break. They sound sweeter and more reflective on “100 Miles,” their voices surrounded with piano and a wash of electric guitars, propelled by the click of a drumstick against the rim of the snare. Album closer “Two Timin’”—a longtime live staple that was the impetus to make a honky-tonk-ish album—is a barn-burner with handclaps and a fast shuffle beat, and the sisters take a brassy tone as they let some guy know they’ve had it up to here with his wandering eye.

Though the Watson twins are extraordinary singers, their preternatural vocal abilities outpace their skill as lyricists. Look beneath those pristine harmonies and there’s too often a jumble of cliches, or songs that sound dated in a way that’s more corny than old-school. “Sissy Said” is a string of platitudes paired with a bouncy, upbeat arrangement, while “My Name” leans hard on the conceit that someone who calls a lover by pet names might not actually know what she’s really called. The song tries for a twist at the end that feels forced, but at least the piano vamp percolating through the arrangement stays bubbly. Sometimes there’s a mismatch between the music and the lyrics: “Honky Tonk Heart” has a ’70s-style outlaw country arrangement that Waylon Jennings might have dug, but the cutesy, coy lyrics evoke gingham blouses, pigtails and faux-wood paneling like some Ozark Jubilee outtake.

The disconnect between the music and the lyrics makes Holler an inconsistent album, and for every uplifting high when a number works, there’s a thudding clunk when a track lands hard. Chandra and Leigh Watson have the voices, no question about it. They just don’t always have the songs.

Listen to The Watson Twins’ Daytrotter session from 2011 below.

Eric R. Danton has been contributing to Paste since 2013. His work has also appeared in Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and Pitchfork, among other publications. Follow him on Mastodon or visit his website.

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