I don’t consider myself a fan of Old Crow Medicine Show. I have nothing in particular against the band, I’ve just never gotten around to listening to them. I’ve heard maybe four or five of their songs in my life and I certainly couldn’t tell you which member of OCMS was singing those songs. I write all this to say, I come to the solo debut of Willie Watson, Folk Singer Vol. 1, with no preconceptions or knowledge of his efforts or contributions to Old Crow Medicine Show. To me, Folk Singer is the promising debut album from a talented interpreter of songs.
Nine of the ten tracks on Folk Singer are traditional folk or blues songs originally popularized by the likes of Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Utah Phillips, and others. The only one of these songs that would be commonly known to most people other than a serious American Folk Music aficionado is the first track “Midnight Special”, originally popularized by Lead Belly but somewhat more recently and, perhaps more famously, made popular by Credence Clearwater Revival.
Accompanied only by a banjo, guitar, and harmonica, the highlight of the stripped down Folk Singer is Watson’s plaintive and soulful tenor. The banjo and guitar picking are marvelous to be sure, but that voice (that VOICE!) was just made for singing lonesome, old time Appalachian Mountain Music. Watson carries on a tradition started by the legends of Folk, Bluegrass, and Country Music and in the process teaches a new generation. Reminds me of Rust Cohle talking about time being a flat circle, but I digress…
Americana music doesn’t get more American and Roots music doesn’t get much rootsier than Folk Singer Vol. 1 by Willie Watson. If you want to take an American musical history lesson sung by a teacher with a golden voice, Folk Singer Vol 1 is a good place to start.