The Watson Twins have always been about creating a mood. Skilled in the art of the harmony, the Los Angeles-based duo have specialized in a more meditative brand of Southern soul, one in which their two voices have been locked in a back-porch slow-dance. With the release last week of "Talking to You, Talking to Me," the identical siblings have started to shift their focus to the groove.
Still best known for their pairing with Jenny Lewis on her 2006 effort "Rabbit Fur Coat," Chandra and Leigh Watson have steadily gone from backing artists to leading women, releasing now two full-length albums under their own name. The act's last was a quiet affair, and with limited exceptions, 2008's "Fire Songs" was about the close vocal shadowing of unhurried acoustic arrangements.
From the outset, "Talking to You" has different goals. Its opening track "Modern Man" launches in a rhythmic trot. With electric guitars that trail and haunt the beat rather than lead it, the Watson Twins recall Linda Ronstadt, opening with a timeless pop sound that carries on the Laurel Canyon tradition.
"Leigh and I knew we wanted to make a record that really relied on the rhythm section," Chandra told Pop & Hiss last week. "We really dug into the drums and the bass, and that was the focus of each tune. I feel like the record has two sides. There’s an upbeat, indie-pop kind of sound, and then there’s a soul, R&B side of the record. What we hope ties them together is that they all rely heavily on the rhythm section."
Like the stylistic leaps the twins' pal Lewis took on 2008's "Acid Tongue," the Watson Twins show off the more lively aspects of their influences on "Talking to You." Parts of the new album, such as "Harpeth River" and "Midnight," have a bluesy cabaret feel. Elsewhere, "U-N-Me" and "Savin' You" capture a more classic rock sound, the latter with a brisk, rootsy symphony that would make Jeff Lynne proud.