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Review

Willie Watson - Broadcast - 21/01/19


"Former Old Crow Medicine Show member Willie Watson brings folk and gospel standards to Celtic Connections."

 

Review by Graham McCusker
Posted on 2019-01-22 17:35:07
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It is a dark, wet, stereotypically Glaswegian evening on Blue Monday - said to be the most depressing day of the year. It also happens to be the day after the first weekend of Celtic Connections, and there may be more than a few hangovers which have still to wear off. Luckily, fresh from an appearance on recent Coen Brothers film ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Willie Watson is on hand to banish any lingering headaches and keep the party atmosphere going.

The show is long sold-out, and the venue is already packed to the rafters with punters watching from the stairs as support The Harmaleighs perform. The duo charm those who have made it down early with their glorious harmonies, and a wonderful cover of Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in The Dark’. Hilarity ensues when they ask the crowd “are you pumped for Willie?”, blissfully unaware of the connotations which come with the local dialect.

Willie Watson takes to the stage in an understated fashion, largely because the venue is so rammed that only the first few rows can see him. Beginning with an understated ‘Take This Hammer’, it sets the tone for the evening. Watson has released two records of covers of folk and country standards and these comprise most of his set this evening.

Having been a founding member of the legendary Old Crow Medicine Show, he is used to playing venues far bigger than Broadcast, but he is clearly happy to be here this evening and acknowledges how privileged he is at various points this evening. He regularly switches between acoustic and banjo, and the adoring sell-out audience whoop and cheer every solo and elongated note, all the while singing along to every folk standard which Watson whips from his arsenal. He fascinates the crowd with overly-long stories from the road, including one tale of how an Australian took issue with him singing of songs which were violent to women, seemingly unaware that Watson himself did not write them.

Watson’s schtick however, wears thin very quickly, however. His covers may be impassioned, but are nothing particularly special, and very quickly the show becomes little more than a mediocre folk singer playing crowd-pleasing standards.

It is telling that the two real highlights of the evening are when Watson decides to play one of his own songs - ‘Slim Goes to Hell’ - and when he plays an impromptu rendition of the Scottish folk standard ‘Bleacher Lassie O’ Kelvinhaugh’. On the former, which is based on the Sterling Brown poem ‘Slim Greer Goes to Hell’, Watson is impassioned, and plays with added purpose, seemingly more inspired by performing his own art, as opposed to the cover versions which he has now been touring tirelessly with for around eight years.

A rollicking ‘John Henry’ closes the show to send the Glaswegian crowd home happy. They are clearly impressed; however, this may be down to the familiarity of the material performed as opposed to the substance of Watson’s performance. The next time the folk troubadour comes to town, it may be beneficial to bring a whole lot more of his own material.


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