Fiction Family, 'Fiction Family Reunion'

Jon Foreman and Sean Watkin’s chemistry and camaraderie are back.

So, the lead singer of an alternative rock band and a songwriter & singer in a folk/bluegrass/crossover group form a side project …

It sounds like the set-up for a joke, but when the musicians involved are Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman and Sean Watkins from Nickel Creek, it’s a dream come true.

The powerhouse songwriters along with one friend and a friend-of-a-friend formed a side project they called Fiction Family in 2005, when Foreman and Watkins played with their own bands at the same street scene festival in San Diego. They released their first album four years later, adding Aaron Redfield behind the drumset and Tyler Chester on bass to the Family.

In a world of frequently reverb-saturated albums, it’s refreshing to hear the sonic dryness of Reunion.

Another nearly four years later they’ve followed up their self-titled debut with the—aptly named—Fiction Family Reunion. And a happy reunion it is, featuring the return of all four members.

Though their sophomore album is being released by Rock Ridge Music from Newark, N.J., the band still recorded and produced their own songs in Switchfoot’s Spot X Studio in Carlsbad, Calif.—making their sound even more raw and intimate than their debut. In a world of frequently reverb-saturated albums, it’s refreshing to hear the sonic dryness of Reunion. Everything about this album has been a labor of love for the quartet, and it shows. The whole process took two years between Foreman’s and Watkins’ busy touring schedules and commitment to other projects. According to them, it was a good thing, as they continued writing and improving songs during the delay.

Reunion is 10 songs and 37 minutes of thoughtful lyrics, solid instrumentals and sheer camaraderie. There is one reigning criticism, however, though it could also serve as a bonus to some fans: The second album is largely more of the first, only better.

This time around, The Family is even more tightly knit in its production and not a single song lags or is “skip”-worthy. When “the same” is as good as what they’re doing, it’s a great thing. The album flows seamlessly, weaving through a steady balance of fun and virtuoso.

“Guilt” and “Give Me Back My Girl” are poppy and upbeat, setting your foot-tapping. “Damaged” and “God Badge” are thoughtful calls to authenticity, honesty and intentional living. The former starts with a brutally honest line: I’m damaged and I don’t want you to know / under bandages are wounds I’ll never show. The rest of the verses delve deeper into the human tendency to put up facades and smiling faces instead of being candid about personal struggles. In spite of the subject of the confession, however, the song’s texture is raw and vulnerable. “God Badge” sounds like a call specifically to funeral-protesters who bring destruction in the name of righteousness rather than love.

“Just Rob Me” is a clever bluegrass-infused, upside-down love story. Mutli-instrumentalist John Mark Painter (Ben Folds, Sixpence None the Richer, Fleming and John) also appears on “Up Against the Wall”—the group’s self-proclaimed attempt to take the “same DNA [from The Band’s “The Weight”] and import it into what [they] do.” “Fool’s Gold” adds more to the family flair, with Watkins’ sister, Sara, contributing her fiddle magic.

After a disaster-ridden tour for the first album, involving a perpetually broken Sprinter van and several “coldest night[s] in 40 years,” the band has decided that in the midst of annoyance and difficulty, they really just want to have a lot of fun. The group has said it intends to continue making music together, intentionally setting aside Family time in between their main gigs. So it looks like we’ll have many more “Family” reunions to look forward to.

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