I’ve been asked a few times to write testimonials – mostly for funding applications, for an artist seeking a residency or some such. Once or twice I’ve been asked to writer liner notes. Most recently Darren Watson asked me if I’d contribute some words to his brand new, upcoming album, Too Many Millionaires. I was keen. Darren’s a friend, and a wonderful musician. I was given the chance to hear the album early – it really is terrific. You’ll have the chance to hear it soon. It’s released May 1, 2018. There’s a tour around the country in support of it, the wonderful musicians assembled for this record will be at those shows. You’ll hear the songs from this album. Other songs too of course. Well, to get you in the mood – here are the liner notes I wrote for Too Many Millionaires. The album will be available on CD, Vinyl and Download.
“I’m a pilgrim/But I don’t know what I’m lookin for” begins the song called Pilgrim, mid-way through this record. I’d argue that ‘Authenticity’ is what Watson has been seeking through his music. ‘Integrity’ is what he’s brought to it. And in the true sense of the blues he’s been on a journey, this pilgrim.
Later, on the same song, his foot marking time beneath his Robert Johnson coo, his guitar finding its own space in and around the ghosts of Son House, Pettie Wheatstraw and Lightnin’ Hopkins, he’ll sing “I’m a fighter/But I don’t know what I’m fighting for”. I’d argue that Watson has long known the fight – the struggle, the aim – it’s just a case of now being the arrival point of a journey set in motion some three decades earlier. Just how a Wanganui-born, Hutt-raised Beatles-nut and blues encyclopaedia learned to walk this walk and talk this talk is something honed across five previous solo albums, all following his time with (Chicago) Smoke Shop.
In 1998 he was an Overnight Sensation, yet in 2014 he was still Introducing himself – now, here, with this record that you hold and are about to hear (and shortly after fall deeply in love with) he has in fact arrived. It’s taken time, like all good things do. But here you will hear the most honest representation of the man, both a hard-grafter and a natural talent.
Thanks of course must go to Mike Gibson for his mastering, and to the great (Dr.) Lee Prebble, engineer of this magic at his (World-Famous-in-Wellington) Surgery Studios. Thanks of course must go to the new band that DW has honed across the last couple of years. The stripped-back, acoustic setting of this album features Darren’s voice and guitar to the fore, his own accompanying percussion too. But longstanding collaborator Terry Casey pulls the ‘pocket saxophone’ out for several choice moments, including the Sonny & Brownie feel given to Too Many Millionaires. And Delia Shanly’s percussion is a subtle, helpful glue. Steve Moodie (double bass) and Dayle Jellyman (piano) are the ‘new finds’ in Darren Watson’s world. They’re wise beyond their years, musically speaking at least, the kinship then is obvious. Listen to how they sit so firmly underneath, in the background and yet all around the tune as Darren tears at the guitar strings (and heartstrings) for Un-Love Me, Baby. Terry Casey’s harp is the guiding light, Watson’s voice the grit, the soul, the sure step.
Darren Watson’s always known where he’s come from – born 20 or 40 years too late perhaps. That’s maybe been both blessing and curse. But it’s on Too Many Millionaires – quite rightly the album of Watson’s lifetime, the one he’s proudest of, the one he’s always been working towards where it all comes together. The personal, the political, so often entwined, the soul, the heart, tributes to specific people – That Guy Could Sing! – and to music in general – Mean Me Right Blues, Past Tense, Pilgrim. It’s on Too Many Millionaires that the notion of ‘Journey’ seems so obvious, logical. For though the journey will continue, and long may it on the strength of this if not everything before, it’s here we can hear that Darren Watson has arrived.
People talk, so often perhaps, about making their best record. The record of their life. The record they always wanted to make. The one they were sure was there all along. Sometimes – in the best cases – it takes a while. A good while. You hone, you craft, you struggle, you grit, you cry. You walk away – come back. You sit down sometime over two days with a group of great friends and spiritual allies. You strip away any need for stinging solos and anything too showy. You pack the best songs you have, the best you’ve written. You tunnel down into the heart. Get just a little bit past that and you find the true soul. And that’s here. The journey complete.