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Willie Watson

Folksinger, Vol. 2 – 2017 (Acony)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Willie Watson

Offering up an entire album of traditional folk songs is nothing new, of course. Once Dylan and Springsteen tapped into that template, the standard was set for the future. Still, given Watson's pedigree - first as an original member of Old Crow Medicine Show and later as a hired hand and integral part of the Dave Rawlings Machine -- he has an appropriate resume that allows him to nicely fit into the role of perpetual troubadour. Likewise, with one volume of journeyman ballads behind him, a second set seems a natural successor.

It also seems fitting that Rawlings should be at the helm of these proceedings, especially given the fact that Rawlings maintains his own ties to vintage Americana. Consequently, Watson's renditions of such trusty, time honored favorites as "Samson and Deliah," "Gallows Pole" (done far differently than the hoary take Led Zeppelin managed all those years ago), "The Cuckoo Bird" and "John Henry" don't find the pair venturing very far out on a limb, summoning up instead a gospel-like delivery with a bluesy tint whenever the delivery demands. Occasional cameos by the likes of the Fairfield Four, Gillian Welch and fellow Machine man and Punch Brother Paul Kowert aside, these songs emerge mostly via bare bone excursions, solitary sojourns that befit the context and the covers.

In cases like this, there's a fine line between scholarly exposition and music capable of finding appeal by a contemporary audience, especially one that's been groomed on the extraneous trappings that encumber most modern music. Still, there's something to be said for home grown charms and the organic arrangements that spawn them. Indeed, with "Folksinger Vol. 2," Watson subtlety and sobriety gives cause for contemplation.