WILLIE WATSON – Folksinger Vol.2 (Acony ACNY1714)

FolksingerFormerly part of the Old Crow Medicine Show and currently a member of the David Rawlings Machine, the grainy-voiced LA-based folkie follows up his solo debut, Folksinger Vol.1 with an appropriately sequentially titled sequel.

Produced by Rawlings, again he digs deep into American folk music for his material, some of which will be familiar, others less so. Taking the latter first, the second track on the album is a solid reading of ‘Gallows Pole’, here arranged to include a woodwind ensemble to complement his stark acoustic picking and harmonica. The number has recently been recorded by Bella Gaffney and, coincidentally, another UK folk singer, Kim Greenwood, has also just released an album featuring another traditional chestnut (of UK derivation, actually) included here, ‘The Cuckoo Bird’. Both give it an urgent, driving treatment, though Watson emphasises on Appalachian colours with his banjo accompaniment and he’s on banjo again for the third of the much covered songs, a nimble-fingered fast paced flurry through ‘John Henry’.

Gospel legends The Fairfield Four lend their voices to three numbers, the first being traditional album opener ‘Samson and Delilah’, Watson fingerpicking acoustic while they quartet join in on the chorus. They return for ‘On The Road Again’ which, also featuring Gillian Welch on drums and former Medicine Show colleague Morgan Jahnig on bass, Watson says he set out to create the sound and spirit of a 1926 dance party in the manner of the version he heard by the Grateful Dead. The invitation should be taken up. Their third crooning contribution is on album closer, a suitably world weary and resigned reading of Ledbetter’s ‘Take This Hammer’.

Moving back to the third track, a worn and weathered, version of Furry Lewis’s ‘When My Baby Left Me’’ sees Paul Kowert from the Punch Brothers on bass and a percussive effect that sounds like wood creaking. Though often credited to Doc Watson, it was Thomas Clarence Ashley who first released a version of the traditional African-American work song, ‘Walking Boss’, in 1961, and it’s he who gets the nod here in a fine, dry fingerpicked interpretation that sees Watson breaking out the harmonica again.

Though better known for writing ‘How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live?’ Virginia fiddle player and bluesman Blind Alfred Reed recorded ‘Always Lift Him Up And Never Knock Him Down’ two years earlier in 1927, Watson’s version recalling those early coffee house years of Bob Dylan. Though co-credited to Alan Lomax, the remaining number is another from Ledbetter, Watson taking to slide and falsetto for the classic dying song ‘Leavin’ Blues’, adding to a list of fine versions that include, among others, ones by Davey Graham, Rory Gallagher, (when he was with Taste) Johnny Winter.

There’s been a spate of young musicians revisiting the folk, blues and country music of the 60s; not all of them pull off the authenticity, but Watson does so without breaking sweat.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: https://www.williewatson.com/home

‘Take This Hammer’ – live:

DAVID RAWLINGS – Poor David’s Almanack (Acony)

AlmanackThe material is all new, but, in part because several are based on traditional stories and songs, the feel is ageless as David Rawlings evokes a sense of a vanished rural America in a similar gothic folk manner to his longtime musical partner, Gillian Welch who, as ever, joins him here.

She brings effective harmonies on the album’s leaving-themed train song opener, ‘Midnight Train’, Rawlings ably demonstrating his acclaimed acoustic fingerpicking. Next up, opening and underpinned with her handclap and foot percussion and featuring Willie Watson on banjo, ‘Money Is The Meat In The Coconut’ is one of several playful numbers, this derived from African roots but with a hoe-down feel, albeit the lyrics carrying an underlying anti-capitalist message about subsistence living.

Watson also lends his vocals to the brooding Appalachian drama of the Rawlings-Welch duet ‘Cumberland Gap’, the former’s restyling of a traditional number previously assayed by the likes of Guthrie, Seeger and Donegan, here filtered through the musical lens of CSN&Y’s ‘Ohio’ with its fierce electric guitars and ominous atmosphere.

‘Airplane’ shifts the mood to a yearning reflective ballad that, bolstered by Brittany has on dreamy fiddle, conjures passing thoughts of Guy Clarke as Rawlings passionately sings how “ life’s a bitch cause you don’t want me” and about having wings to escape from heartache. At five minutes the album’s longest track, ‘Lindsay Button’ is another minor key number. Featuring in his live sets last year, it’s a slow spiritual hymnal telling of the “pretty young girl” who “come’ down the mountain long time ago” and “carved two names in a white oak sapling” that essentially about the role of of folk music to preserve history.

Another steeped in old-time music, Kathy Secor on fiddle, ‘Come On Over My House’ is another upbeat good time track, the title pretty much speaking to the narrator’s intentions in inviting his honey to drop by. Things shift again for the electric guitar driven, nasally sung slow-paced southern country rock ‘Guitar Man’, not a Presley or Bread cover but with echoes of The Band clearly sounding as Welch provides the steady drum beat.

Two further playful numbers are set back to back, first up being the lurching rhythm ‘Yup’, Rawlings on scratch, Welch on bongos and Austin Hoke on saw on a tale about the devil visiting a farm to take away the scolding wife only to find she’s more than he bargained for, each line ending with Welch and Rawlings adding the titular interjection. The second also nods to biblical references with ‘Good God A Woman’, a jaunty jamboree spiritual romp about the “big man” needing to create woman from a rib bone to complete creation, saving the best until last.

Not a variation on Ry Cooder’s ‘Tamp ‘em Up Solid’, the album ends with ‘Put ‘em Up Solid’,  Rawlings on harmonium and Haas on fiddle for a simple acoustic folk hymnal about building a firm foundation, whether that’s for a building or a life. A fine companion piece to Nashville Obsolete, and, were it needed, a reminder that neither Rawlings nor Welch play second fiddle to the other.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: www.davidrawlingsmusic.com

‘Midnight Train’:

Madison Violet – The Good In Goodbye

JUNO nominated Canadian roots duo Madison Violet (Brenley MacEachern and Lisa MacIsaac) recently concluded their UK & Ireland tour in support of their new album The Good in Goodbye.

Since releasing their previous album No Fool for Trying (2009), Madison Violet have won the 2009 John Lennon Songwriting Contest for their track ‘The Ransom’, taken home the 2009 Canadian Folk Music Award for Vocal Group of the Year, and been nominated for multiple East Coast Music Awards and a 2010 JUNO Award for Roots & Traditional Album of the Year (Group).

The Good in Goodbye continues the duo’s growth and musical maturity, their distinct take on iconic Americana-inspired up-tempo melodies beautifully contrasts with their breathtakingly sweeping and personal lyrics, creating songs that blend nods to Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch with the radio-friendly flecks of The Court Yard Hounds.

Receiving a mass of acclaim from outlets including the BBC, the CBC, Country Music People, Maverick Magazine, NPR, and Penguin Eggs Magazine, No Fool for Trying made dedicated fans of even the most hard-to-crack critics. Ultimately, Madison Violet captured the attention of Mojo Magazine, landing “Small Of My Heart” on the publication’s distinguished playlist, “Mojo’s Top 10”, in December 2009. Madison Violet also have the unique distinction of being the only Canadians to win The John Lennon Songwriting Contest.

With The Good In Goodbye, Madison Violet prove they’re among Canada’s brightest singer/songwriters.

Artist’s website: www.madisonviolet.com