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Watson calls it like he hears it

Great Scott Boston, Boston, October 31, 2017

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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In this day and age, when musicians are loath to be pigeon-holed into a specific genre, Willie Watson has no problems with that. He fully embraces folk music.

"I'm a folk singer," the former Old Crow Medicine Show member plainly told the crowd. The proof was in the pudding for Watson, even though it's sometimes difficult to easily assign a genre to a musician. He, indeed, is first and foremost a folk singer. As if to underscore the folk idea, Watson's last two discs were "Folksinger, Vol. 1" and the brand new "Folksinger, Vol. 2" with both being covers releases.

But folk was not the be all and end all.

During the course of the night, he expanded his musical horizons a bit by also sprinkling his offerings with blues, gospel and Americana/country, some with a spiritual bent.

Watson, an easy-going performer with a commanding voice, played away hitting gospel with "Dry Bones" and doing justice to traditional spiritual music. Watson's vocals were powerful with the crowd forced to listen intently. He went the traditional British folk route with "Gallows Pole," a song popularized by Led Zeppelin.

Being a one-man band, Watson alternated between acoustic guitar and banjo. Smart move because doing so enabled to infuse the songs with enough diversity and maintain a high level of engagement by the audience. So much so that early on, Watson jokingly admonished the crowd, "You don't have to be that nice. Do you listen to NPR?"

Watson worked the crowd, although one had the sense - rightly or wrongly - that he very well could have used these lines night after night. He also had a particularly (over) long intro as well to "Always Lift Him Up and Never Knock Him Down." But it was the music that left more of a mark, and following that with "Midnight Special" was another in a series of smart choices.

Watson deserved credit for not only calling it like he hears his own music, but doing it well - no matter what you label it.