Sunday, 11 December 2016

"Folk Singer: Vol. 1" by WILLIE WATSON (2014 Acony CD) - A Review by Mark Barry...




"...Bet On Stewball And You Might Win..."

In the 8-page booklet to the CD "Folk Singer - Vol.1" - there's a black and white photo of WILLIE WATSON sat on a chair by his lonesome - tuning an acoustic guitar in front of a trio of top quality microphones in a large white empty studio space. Also on his chair is a bottle of water to sooth his throat – and little else.

This beautifully produced and crafted solo album is like that - most tracks with just the acoustic guitar or his chosen instrument of poison - the banjo. His voice sails out your speakers like the son of Hank Williams reborn - like Bob Dylan mated with Emmylou Harris and produced a bawler. Willie Watson's voice is fabulous - full of Americana - full of that Mickey Newbury, Tim Buckley, Tim Rose wanderlust ache.

Formerly with Nashville's OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW – a very Country outfit who mixed the Grand Ole Opry tradition with 00's Americana - for his debut solo album Willie Watson's 10-song choice of the known and unknown is thrilling. There's no embellishment of any kind on the tracks - just him and the guitar or the banjo - and of course how he arranges the melodies (we get the luxury of a harmonica on "James Alley Blues").

1. Midnight Special
2. Long John Dream
3. Stewball
4. Mother Earth
5. Mexican Cowboy
6. James Alley Blues
7. Rock, Salt And Nails
8. Bring It With You When You Come
9. Kitty Puss
10. Keep It Clean

"Folk Singer - Vol.1" by WILLIE WATSON was US released May 2014 on Acony ANCY-1411 (Barcode 805147141124).

Produced by David Rawlings (Gillian Welch is Associate producer) and mastered by Stephen Marcussen who did the 2009 Rolling Stones Remasters of their catalogue from "Sticky Fingers" onwards) - this CD sounds glorious - warm - full of presence and life - but never ever overdone. Stripped down - the music is peaceful on your head and enriching for your soul and as close to Audio perfection as I’ve ever heard.

Proceedings open with a cover of the Traditional "Midnight Special" - a song that's been done by everyone from Big Joe Turner on Atlantic Records in the 50s to Creedence Clearwater Revival on Fantasy in the 60ts. Other highlights include a superb swinging version of Leadbelly’s "Stewball" - a song about an 18th century Irish racehorse who ran in England with an alarming knack of winning. I love the Jo Ann Kelly lonesome vibe of "Mother Earth" - a Memphis Slim cover done on Guitar as Watson sounds like Dylan circa '69 ("...when it all ends up...you got to go back to mother earth...").

Written by Richard 'Rabbit' Brown - "James Alley Blues" feels like Watson has discovered his inner Bruce Springsteen and especially the bare bones "Nebraska". Thinking he's a sappy country fool - he moans of woman's ways as "...she wants to hitch me to a wagon and drive me like a mule..." just before he delivers a harmonica solo that would make the new Nobel Prize Winner for Literature flinch with envy (go Bob). I first heard the gorgeous ache of "Rock, Salt & Nails" through John Martyn who does a stunning version of it on his "No Little Boy" CD compilation of 1993 on Permanent Records (a duet with Levon Helm of The Band on vocals). Here Watson strips the song right down to just his voice and an acoustic guitar giving a beautiful and lonesome result that makes you concentrate on the 'high bushy' lyrics.

Gus Cannon penned "Bring It With You When You Come" with his Jug Stompers way back in 1930 - a freight train song that’s been subsequently covered by luminaries like David Bromberg and The Siegal-Schwall Band. "Kitty Puss" is a kid's song by the obscure and forgotten Land Norris - a banjo-player from Georgia who made records in the early 1920s. The album ends on a Charley Jordan Blues cover - "Keep It Clean" - which could be saucy - or just a ditty about Coca-Cola.

Simple - sweet - good for you - and apart from the rather naff-looking artwork and simplistic title - I love it to bits. Investigate right soon...

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