Chris Watkins is a man with an acoustic guitar and much to say. Watkins has returned with Winter Birds, follow up to his 2011 debut Lazy Mountain Moon. Hailing from the northern land of Anchorage, Alaska, the singer/songwriter pens winding acoustic tracks to tell his stories. Watkins’ lyrics are delivered with a melancholy voice that comes across as more spoken word than singing at times. Those lyrics are combined with a layered acoustic guitar sound to create the sprawling 21-song Winter Birds.
Describing this as a long album is an understatement. Its a very long album with long songs. The five-minute and four-minute songs almost come across as short interludes between the tracks twice their length. Opener “The Shock And Drop” clocks in at 8 plus minutes with its tale of working out the frustrations of life through a drunken night. “Dirty Little Town” comes in just under 11 minutes as Watkins sings of an already desolate town losing its last good person. The songs often end up rambling repeatedly about the same themes over the same, so it is easy to see how they are so long.
Watkins’ strong point on the long winding path of Winter Birds is the vivid imagery he provides along the way. He manages to intermix images of “lipstick stains on window panes” alongside historical references to G. Gordon Liddy. All throughout he sprinkles in absurdist images along the lines of “supermarket swag”.
Watkins displays his adequate ability to string along acoustic tales, but they often feel like a friend who lacks the ability to get to the point. Telling a more concise story would benefit his next set of songs greatly. You do have to keep in mind that Hawkins hails from The Last Frontier of Alaska. Maybe the drawn out chronicles sound better with more space and time to fill.