Introducing Darren Watson
You may think he needs no introduction since Darren Watson made the national news earlier this year for his song Planet Key – that was sharp piece of political satire; too sharp – apparently. It’s not here on his fifth album. It was always planned as a standalone song – a statement all on its own. And so even if Planet Key was your introduction to Darren Watson – consider this the real deal; for that’s exactly what it is. The latest – and best – album from a real deal player, singer and writer. In fact – even if you know Darren already, from his previous albums and/or going back to his work leading Chicago Smoke Shop (and then just ‘Smoke Shop’) you should consider this your new introduction. For this is Darren Watson now. It’s taken him a lifetime of playing and learning (and educating) to get to here. And it’s been worth the journey when you listen to the results.
That old group of his is evoked on a couple of numbers, smooth-as-silk horn lines punctuating his blues sweeps to create a distinctly South Pacific version of soul and R’n’B. And the influences he’s always carried – Robert Cray, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Elvis Costello and all manner of blues artists, going back to the Walkin’ Blues styles, reaching forward to the revivalists – are finely honed now. What’s also, as a result, finely honed now, is Watson’s own voice. But his songwriting voice and his actual, physical voice. Vocally he’s at the top of his game. From soul-cries to huge whelps via throaty hints of gospel and snappy, spit-it-out blues-as-pop-music, lyrics-as-dialogue Watson’s voice is absolutely the star of the album.
But then there’s that immaculate playing – not a note out of place, every solo thoughtful, never indulgent. You sometimes wait for the guitar solo – hope for it even. And every time, when it arrives, it does not disappoint. And yet it always surprises.
But it’s the range of material this time around that really tells the story – from cautionary tales (Some Men) through biting blues (I’m So Shallow) and ribald single-entendre filth (Slow Cooker). Watson’s having fun. He’s full of happiness and yet he can still harness the blues. Southern Sunshine is a pop song, a summery blast of goodness. And the decision to cover a pair of mighty fine tunes from the underappreciated Bill Lake gives the album extra depth – especially the mesmerising performance on Thought I’d Seen It All.
I’ve been an enthusiastic cheerleader for Darren Watson – and his music – for a decade or so now. I’ve known that on the night he’s as good as anyone else in the world at this type of music. And that his type of music isn’t just and only the blues – and that even if it was that would be okay. He’s got chops as a player, vocalist and writer. But more important than chops, always, is taste.
Here he’s made the very best album of a hard-fought career. And he’s got more in him like this. I’m sure. You get that feeling from listening to this, a faith, the idea that Watson’s going to be around and knocking it out of the park for just as long as he can. But hopefully this does introduce him to a few new fans. He deserves, at the very least, to be heard. For this is world-class stuff. And even if you’re scared off, still, by the idea of blues – and blues music, and whatever that means in this day and age – then stick around for the hooks. These are classy ballads and soul-stirring songs. And there’s a heart-illuminating brightness to them.
Introducing: Darren Watson.