It’s always challenging to find different ways to amuse children, something that’s obviously been even harder over the part year! This is what helped inspire “Under The Pepper Tree”, the new album from California’s Sara Watkins released last Friday, 26th March via New West Records. Sara explains how “the concept began in the beginning of the pandemic as we embraced what felt like endless days with our own children and families” and although the album was made with children in mind initially, it’s definitely one that the entire family can enjoy together… it’s really an album for children of all ages! Apart from the two new original writes on the track listing, the song choices are largely influenced by Sara’s childhood memories (I’m sure many will be familiar with you, too, several taken from classic films) and she began by searching for those which in particular helped ease the shift from day to evening. As Sara says “many of these songs have been with me since childhood and returning to them as a parent has reminded me of the magic that happens when we listen with our imaginations“. Just listen to Sara’s version of “Pure Imagination“, originally from the ever-popular 1971 film “Willie Wonka And The Chocolate Factory” of course, and along with the truly enchanting video you’ll understand what she means I’m sure. The perfect choice as album opener, it really does transport you to another world from the very beginning.
A fantastic fiddle player (another stand out feature of the album) Sara has several strings to her bow (no pun intended! ). As well as her successful solo career, she leads the bluegrass musical collaborative Watkins Family Hour alongside her brother Sean, is founding member of the Grammy award winning band Nickel Creek and also the AMA/Grammy winning female trio I’m With Her, with both these latter bands joining her on the album on songs that go way back! The Nickel Creek collaboration, “Blue Shadows On The Trail” featured in the 1948 Disney film “Melody Time” where this western-style song was performed by Roy Rogers and Sons Of The Pioneers while coyotes howled in the background! Sara’s updated version keeps its western roots alive and once again there’s a fantastic animated video to accompany the track for the entire family to enjoy
Even older is “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” which features I’m With Her. Another song famously associated with Mr Rogers and his band, who shot it to fame in 1935 as the title track of the Gene Autry film released that year it was actually written five years earlier by Bob Nolan and originally titled “Tumbling Leaves“.
Not all the covers go quite that far back but I can guarantee that the album will definitely bring back a lot of memories . On a personal level, I was intrigued to see“Edelweiss”on the track listing as I was obsessed with “The Sound Of Music” as a child and the film’s soundtrack was in fact the first album I ever bought! What a sweet reworking it is too, with Sara’s daughter adding her voice to the track just as the von Trapp children did alongside Christopher Plummer on the original.
When it came to sequencing the 15 tracks, Sara had the vinyl listening experience in particular in mind and she formed the track listing to sides A and B before adding transitions between the songs making each half of the album seamlessly glide by. And the vinyl package that’s available (alongside the digital and CD versions of course) also enables children to interact in a deeper way, an idea that stemmed from her own experiences listening
to vintage vinyl finds with her daughter. “You find some that are really beautiful” Sara comments, “and there are some Winnie The Pooh albums we listen to on a daily basis not just because of what they sound like, but because of what they look like. My daughter will look at the book while I put on the record… it’s all connected. I want kids to experience my record that way, with all of the senses“. And her hope for all who listen, whatever their age, is that the record “fills homes with delight and calm and helps in the transition from day to night, din to dreams and chaos to rest“.
Give “Under The Pepper Tree” a listen and I’m sure you’ll agree that she has succeeded in that mission. It’s a true delight!