Willie Watson, Folksinger Vol. 2 Review

A few posts back I wrote about my serendipitous and probably irresponsible purchase of tickets to see Willie Watson at the Fremont Abbey in Seattle. I mean, the tickets were a straight up bargain; the flight and hotel were maybe pushing the boundaries of fiscal responsibility. But sometimes -most times- you oughta just go for broke. Plus, my dearest friend lives in Seattle, so there was no question that a good time was gonna be had.

I’ve been wanting to see Willie Watson live since I heard his first solo album (Folksinger Vol. 1) and he didn’t disappoint. He opened the show with “Take This Hammer,” and his incomparable voice in that little room…well, I think my heart might have stopped.

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Not by best shot, but I didn’t want to use a flash.

The Lead Belly classic is my favourite track on Folksinger Vol. 2, a record of back to back standout songs. On the album version, Watson is accompanied by the Fairfield Four, who bring all the power and depth you’d expect from one of the greatest gospel groups in the world.

The record, produced by David Rawlings for he and Gillian Welch’s Acony Records label, kicks off with a rousing version of “Samson and Delilah” with the Fairfield Four. “Gallows Pole” is haunting and perfectly suited to Watson’s high and keening sound. “Dry Bones,” “Walking Boss,” “The Cuckoo Bird,” and “John Henry” are fresh-sounding folk standards, and the blues are solidly represented by “When My Baby Left Me,” and “Leavin’ Blues.” The Blind Alfred Reed song “Always Lift Him Up and Never Knock Him Down” is lifted up (see what I did there? 🙄) by the addition of a woodwind ensemble which lends an orchestral (almost minstrel) feel to the track.

The jugband sound of “On The Road Again” features the Fairfield Four and Gillian Welch, and makes for a pretty great sing-a-long, though I had to look up what a “natural-born eastman” was. (From what I could gather, I think it was a term for a man who lived off of a woman; kind of a pimp. And man, pimps are always fun to sing about, I don’t care who you are.)

Big pimpin’.

I was lucky to meet Willie after the Seattle show and he couldn’t have been kinder or more humble. I used to be the hospitality coordinator for a popular venue that hosted all of my favourite bands and I’ve never been nervous to meet anyone in my life, but I think I was a nervy spaz when I met Willie Watson! I’m frequently captured by music, but I was deeply moved at his show. It had me all kinds of emotional, and my sarcastic shell was cracked for the night (don’t worry, it grew back.)

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I’m hoping to see him again on this tour, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he’ll play in some state nearer to Winnipeg, and the legion of folkies we’ve got here.

I tend to carry on when I love something this much; yesterday, my husband asked me if I had a crush on Willie Watson. I said “No, sweetie, I have a crush on Blair Redford. I just have a deep and abiding musical devotion to Willie Watson.” You will, too, so get on out there and buy yourself a copy of Folksinger Vol. 2, and if you have a chance to see Willie live, take it!

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