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Fiction Family Debut Is Delicate And Industrious

Fiction Family is the name taken by two musicians from other bands — Sean Watkins of the progressive bluegrass group Nickel Creek, and Jon Foreman of the alternative-rock band Switchfoot. The duo began writing songs when their bands were on the bill of a big rock concert a few years ago, and eventually recorded this album, also called Fiction Family.

The softly sung acoustic tune, called "War In My Blood," gives you a good idea of the music on Fiction Family's debut. Watkins and Foreman alternate throughout the album on lead vocals and play all the instruments you hear, which include guitar, keyboards, drums and organ.

The music has a built-in ache. "There's an icon in your mind that stands for happiness one day," they sing on the song, "Closer Than You Think." Using computer imagery — an earlier generation surely would have said "there's a picture in your mind" rather than an icon — Fiction Family strives to make simple, direct music, rooted in folk and 1960s pop, without going too limp on us.

Sometimes it doesn't work, as in the maudlin "Please Don't Call It Love," with its weepy, sleepy violin. And the lyrics on this album — which consist, for the most part, of carefully phrased examinations of heartbreak — aren't particularly original.

But Watkins and Foreman are smart enough to know which of their collaborations turned out best, and they lead off the album with "When She's Near," which is by far their most attractive, memorable song. With its Beatle-esque melody and soft harmonies, it is a lovely romantic trifle. Its chorus — "When she's near me all the world is new" — is the sort of starry-eyed sentiment that Fiction Family's music is ideally suited to transmit.

There is in general a sort of hippie-dippyness to a lot of this music, as when the duo does that old counter-cultural trick of appropriating even older musical styles in a cute, self-conscious manner on the song, "Look For Me Baby." And the album has the feeling of a one-time experiment rather than an ongoing project. But perhaps this is the attitude with which Watkins and Foreman approached it.

What results most of the time is a sense of freedom, an airy lyricism that's never weighed down by the notion that careers or record sales hang in the balance. I'd call this spider-web music — delicate, industrious and intricate. Here today and, perhaps, gone tomorrow.

Copyright 2022 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.