Although still best known for the lush backing vocals they brought to Jenny Lewis’s Rabbit Fur Coat, the Watson Twins continue to emerge as a formidable vocal act worthy of top-billing on their second full-length album, Talking to You, Talking to Me. In looking beyond the confines of the often stuffy alt-country style of Rabbit and their underwhelming debut, Fire Songs, Leigh and Chandra come up with a sound that capitalizes on the richness of their vocal harmonies.
Though some recognizable country flourishes still emerge (the delicate brushed snare and gentle piano on “Tell Me Why” and “Calling Out” owe an obvious debt to Sammi Smith’s classic rendition of “Help Me Make It Through the Night”), the bulk of the album suggests a less studio-slick version of Duffy’s Rockferry. With its syncopated Hammond organ line, “Harpeth River” sounds like an unearthed ‘60s pop single, while opener “Modern Man” glides along a Nancy Sinatra-style two-step rhythm. As a deliberate aesthetic choice, this vintage conceit makes sense for the Watson Twins, whose voices are quite beautiful on their own but whose gift for intricate, supple harmonies is perhaps best suited for classic girl-group pop.
Where the duo struggles, then, is in their relative lack of presence on record: They may come across as a more soulful version of the Pipettes, but on too much of Talking they let J. Soda and Russell Pollard’s production overshadow them. While that production is fine, it isn’t particularly novel or distinctive. Because they’re content to play the role of wallflowers, the Watson Twins allow Talking to become a pleasant but ultimately forgettable sophomore effort.