Tag Archives: Willie Watson

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An Evening with David Rawlings (and Friends) at Brooklyn Steel

December 1st, 2017

When the book is written on the all-time great musical couples, the chapter on David Rawlings and Gillian Welch (or is that Gillian Welch and David Rawlings?) will be one to dog-ear and go back to again and again. In fact, the first couple of Americana discovered they had enough great folk in them that putting it out just as Gillian Welch wasn’t enough, and so Dave Rawlings Machine was born, with the first release (stream it below) back in 2009. Now on his third album, Poor David’s Almanack (stream it below), Rawlings (above, performing “Cumberland Gap” live for KMCP FM) has dropped the Machine from his moniker but has actually grown a full band, featuring some of the genre’s truly best musicians sounding as good as ever. Rawlings’s superlative guitar playing and timeless songs are backed by Willie Watson, Brittany Haas, Paul Kowert and, of course, Welch. The group is back on tour with a stop at Brooklyn Steel on Tuesday, a chance to stomp your feet, hoot and holler, and see a pair of all-timers do their thing. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

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A Willie Watson and Colter Wall Sing-Along at Rough Trade NYC

October 26th, 2017

Willie Watson and Colter Hall – Rough Trade NYC – October 25, 2017


Sometimes at a concert you get a real feel for what things were like back when. Sometimes it’s because of the room: Walk into Carnegie Hall or Village Vanguard and you are transported back through decades of New York City live-music history. Other times it’s the performers themselves who seem to transport you back to a past heyday. Last night at Rough Trade NYC featured two such performers who transported the crowd back in time, evoking a country and folk music of another era as if it were brand-new today.

Colter Wall is a Canadian singer from Saskatchewan who evokes a country music of a time gone by. He began his set solo, with just enough croak in his vintage voice and acoustic guitar, singing, “If I’m being truthful, I only live at night” and covering Woody Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi” like he’d written it on his way from Canada. He was joined by a band—mandolin, dobro, bass—and continued to mix old-school covers by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Hank Williams with originals from his self-titled debut that evoked the same spirit with a little updating along the way. A cover of Blaze Foley’s “Oval Room,” perfectly fit into the set and had the crowd whooping and hollering. Audiences will clap or sing along and this one did that aplenty, but the stomp along is a bit rarer and felt natural at several points during Wall’s performance—you could imagine yourself back when in a barn somewhere hearing murder ballads like his “Kate McCannon” and stomping along.

Willie Watson has a voice and a love for folk music and, let’s face it, a name that makes it easy to imagine sitting around a campfire or revival tent hearing gospel numbers and old-timey songs mixed with storytelling and off-center humor. He opened with “Take This Hammer,” his voice infused with a slight warble as he stretched out syllables, letting them fill the room. “If you know this one, sing along” seemed to be implied from the start of his set, and the crowd joined in as he worked his way through a musical time warp. Watson has been playing and touring and recording these old folk songs for years—his new album is simply and aptly titled Folk Singer Vol. 2—and he sings them possessed of their original spirit. Tunes like “Samson and Delilah,” “Gallows Pole” and “Midnight Special” in their original form before they were turned into modern-day rock songs were stripped to their original bare essence in Watson’s hands. Switching between guitar and banjo (giving the audience what he referred to as a proper dose of “vitamin B”), the set was both raucous and poignant. Like any good folk show, there were sing-alongs, like “Stewball,” and murder ballads, like “Frankie and Johnny,” and, of course, songs about the feats of John Henry. Through them all, Watson’s love for the music and performing it shined through, taking the audience to way back when for just one night. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

(Tonight’s Willie Watson and Colter Hall show at Mercury Lounge is sold out.)       

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Willie Watson Sells Out Rough Trade NYC on Friday Night

January 12th, 2015

Willie Watson – Rough Trade NYC – January 9, 2015

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Sellouts are always special, but there was something even more rewarding about the packed house for Friday’s Rough Trade NYC bill. That a guy like Willie Watson with a guitar and a banjo, playing a set of songs that had been around longer than everyone in attendance had been alive—numbers that felt older than dirt—could draw such a large, spirited crowd to Williamsburg was emblematic of something. It said something about the timelessness of the music, of course, the folk tradition that will outlive us all, but it was also indicative of the guy playing them: He looked the part and sounded the part. Watson doesn’t just play these songs, he breathes life into them.

Following a raucous, raunchy, keep-your-eye-out-for-this-one opening set from Elle King, Watson took the stage, banjo in hand, wearing a denim shirt and jeans and a hat that added the perfect look to the sounds he was about to make. He opened with a one-two hootenanny of “Georgia Buck” and “Free Little Bird,” which put him in league with Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson respectively. The audience was transported, stomping the floor in time, evoking a barn dance more than a rock club.

Watson pulled some of the songs from last year’s Folk Singer Vol. 1, but mostly he seemed to be reaching back in time, the entire Americana songbook at his disposal. Highlights included Blind Willie McTell’s “Rollin’ Mama Blues” with some nice hand-shucked guitar picking, and an excellent version of a “new one,” Reverend Gary Davis’s “I Belong to the Band, Hallelujah.” Wrapping up a stellar night of singing and dancing, Watson capped the set with Lead Belly’s “Midnight Special” before an encore of traditionals, “Good Old Mountain Dew” and “On the Road Again.” You get the impression that a campfire, a bottle of whiskey, Willie Watson and his guitar would be just about a perfect Friday night. Who knows? He might even be able to sell out a gig like that. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

 

 

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A Top Five Look Back at 2014

December 31st, 2014

Colourful 2014 in fiery sparklers

Top Five Albums
1. The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream
2. Total Control, Typical System
3. Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2
4. Coldplay, Ghost Stories
5. Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal —Charles Steinberg

Top Five Memorable Shows
1. Feist, Tarrytown Music Hall, 4/10
When I heard Feist was doing a tiny solo acoustic tour, I forked over ducats for this one. There were bits of stand-up-like banter with the audience as she stripped down the material. But what really made the night was a mini-reunion with former bandmate (and ex) Kevin Drew as they dueted on the Broken Social Scene classic “Lover’s Spit.”
2. (tie) Rhye, Webster Hall, 2/21
This performance was a bit misleading because although singer Milosh and producer Robin Hannibal are the members in Rhye, the latter member doesn’t tour. But Milosh’s ethereal voice really is the heart and soul of the pair, and it shone greatest for the hit “Open.” His deceptively androgynous voice sounds at times like Sade or even Antony Hegarty.
(tie) Max Richter, The Bowery Ballroom, 12/7
When I saw that the German-British composer was playing Bowery, I had to hop to it. As Richter usually plays symphony concert halls, it was an interesting choice to play such a smaller venue. The Ballroom felt like a recital hall with the audience entranced. What can I say: I’m a sucker for artists playing unorthodox venues.
3. Glass Animals, The Bowery Ballroom, 7/7
I was recently reminded of this concert when my yoga instructor played “Gooey” in class. Pretty fitting, right? In addition to infectious dance melodies, frontman Dave Bayley’s gangly limbs flayed erratically that evening, bringing to mind another dude named Thom Yorke. The two lads have great music and dance moves to boot. Coincidence? I think not.
4. Phox, Knitting Factory, 7/22
The buzz swirling around this Wisconsin band post-SXSW had me tuned into their album all spring and into the summer. Frontwoman Monica Martin was definitely a bit tipsy, but that didn’t detract from her lush vocals or onstage camaraderie. (Check out Schuyler Rooth’s review of their Mercury Lounge gig.)
5. (tie) Mr. Little Jeans, Rough Trade NYC, 5/10
Opening for Sohn, Norwegian singer Monica Birkenes, aka Mr. Little Jeans, overshadowed the headliner for me. It’s rare when that happens, but this lady has a knack for übercatchy dance-pop songs that streamed through my head all summer. She mentioned how she often came here as a child and was really craving a good slice of pizza. What’s not to love?
(tie) Alvvays, Rough Trade NYC, 7/28
New York City summers are packed with free outdoor gigs throughout the boroughs, but this in-store performance with Alvvays stood out amongst the rest. Their infectiously happy songs illuminated the dark back room of Rough Trade but had folks departing into the night with an extra bounce in their step. —Sharlene Chiu

Top Five Just a Man and His Guitar Solo Sets (chronological order)
1.
Dustin Wong (opening set), The Bowery Ballroom, 4/21
2. Plankton Wat, Trans Pecos, 5/8
3. Steve Gunn, Mercury Lounge, 5/18
4. Willie Watson, Mercury Lounge, 5/21
5. Leif Vollebekk (opening set) The Bowery Ballroom, 11/21 —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Top Five Memorable Shows
1. Sylvan Esso, Rough Trade NYC, 9/11
Both my favorite album and my most memorable live show of 2014 came from Sylvan Esso. Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn possess unwavering emotive energy, and every single lyric and beat has sunk into my psyche . I saw the duo perform live twice this year, most recently at their headlining show at Rough Trade NYC. The duo’s erudite electronica boosted the audience as they performed the entirety of their self-titled debut album plus and few clever covers.
2. Broods, Mercury Lounge, 3/3
Comprised of New Zealander siblings Caleb and Georgia Nott, Broods blend melodic melancholia with sparkling synths and glitchy beats. After getting wrapped up in their self-titled debut EP, I simply had to see them live. Broods played their first NYC show to an incredibly enthusiastic sold-out crowd at Mercury Lounge.
3. Hozier, The Bowery Ballroom, 5/13
Hozier’s rich voice and ardent lyrics sit front and center in his compositions. When he headlined The Bowery Ballroom back in May, he was flanked by equally talented musicians who created dazzling harmonies with choral echoes and rock hooks. Hozier and his bandmates mesmerized the audience, including me.
4. Dan Croll, The Bowery Ballroom, 4/17
Dan Croll’s brand of pop is highly addictive, and his live show is equally intoxicating. He fuses lilting pop, wonky electronica and tribal beats and tops it all off with clever lyrics and airy vocals.
5. Kishi Bashi, The Bowery Ballroom, 6/4
Kishi Bashi has what so many musicians seek, and that is an astounding live presence. It’s as if this guy belongs onstage. Kishi Bashi played back-to-back sold-out New York City shows this past June and stunned audiences with his whimsical finesse and astute lyrics. This picture and my review prove that Kishi Bashi’s live performance is one big euphoric dream sequence. —Schuyler Rooth | @Schuylerspeak

Top Five Albums
1. Under the Pressure, the War on Drugs
Channeling Dylan and Springsteen beneath Adam Granduciel’s vocals and personal struggles to stunning effect, this Philly six-piece put out, for me, far and away the top album of the year.
2. Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker
From the very first listen, Benjamin Booker’s self-titled debut sounds familiar, not like you’d previously heard its influences, but rather you’d actually already heard this album. The music is lived in and alive and a joy to listen to again and again.
3. 77, Nude Beach
Eighteen songs that sound like the love children of late-’70s Tom Petty and Elvis Costello. You’ll smile the whole time you listen to it.
4. Dancin’ with Wolves, Natural Child
Recording for the first time as a five-piece, and moving away from gritty garage rock to
a more full-band bluesy country sound (with a side of boogie), these Nashville boys took a huge step forward.
5. Morning Phase, Beck
Six years removed from his previous offering, Beck’s slow-building emotional relative of Sea Change captures you from the very first note. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog

Top Five Memorable Shows
1. Pearl Jam, I Wireless Center (Moline, Ill.), 10/17
Playing a small (for them) venue (for the first time) on a Friday night in the middle of nowhere, Pearl Jam put on the best show by any band I’ve seen in the past four years. They performed No Code in its entirety and covered Pink Floyd, John Lennon, Van Halen and Neil Young. Frontman Eddie Vedder put it best, comparing the appearance to a blind date: “You get there and she opens the door, and it’s like, she’s hot!”
2. My Morning Jacket, One Big Holiday (Riviera Maya, Mexico), 1/29
I could’ve chosen any of MMJ’s performances from this run, but the last night was the longest show and it particularly stood out thanks to the perfect weather, the we’re-on-vacation-in-the-middle-of-winter party vibe and carefully chosen covers (including Jim James singing, “Something, something, something” in “Rock the Casbah.”)
3. the War on Drugs, The Bowery Ballroom, 3/20
I absolutely loved, loved, loved Under the Pressure and was extremely excited to hear it live. The War on Drugs did not disappoint, plus they even threw in a stellar rendition of “Mind Games” to boot. (As an added bonus, the night began with Drive-By Truckers at Terminal 5 and closed with green sauce and salt-baked goodness at New York Noodletown.
4. Jonathan Wilson, Music Hall of Williamsburg, 2/14
It was a Friday night and Valentine’s Day. But if you were expecting something quiet and romantic, you’d have been way off. Jonathan Wilson and Co. delivered 16 jammed-out (but not self-indulgently) songs over the course of two-and-a-half hours.
5. Deer Tick, Allen Room, 3/6
As part of the American Songbook series, Deer Tick played an incredibly intimate, seated show in front of a wall of windows revealing Columbus Circle below. It was one of those moments that makes you grateful to live in New York City. —R.Z.

 

 

 

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Willie Watson Celebrates New Album at Mercury Lounge

May 22nd, 2014

Willie Watson – Mercury Lounge – May 21, 2014

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“I guess I’m a folk singer now,” announced Willie Watson midway through his show at Mercury Lounge last night, the now implying he was previously something else. Watching him hold the sold-out audience in rapt attention as he made his way through folk standards, a sweet, natural warble in his voice, alternating between guitar and banjo easily, it felt like he was born a folk singer. Opening with “Take This Hammer” (later explaining that there are lots of “hammer songs” in folk music), Watson stood alone, working the time-tested material like sandpaper to a piece of wood, bringing out the simple, natural, beautiful grain.

The set was filled with traditional folk music: songs about drinking, trains and bank robbers, doing wrong by women and (barely) being saved (or not), and John Henry’s hammer—many featured on Watson’s new album, Folk Singer Vol. 1. The crowd filled in the gaps with plenty of shouts, all drawn in for the early set, many straight from work, by the higher power of folk music, a weekday religious service of sorts. Watson moved easily through the material, switching between banjo and guitar on almost every song, filling little solos in between verses. He played on the theme of folk tradition, setting up a sing-along for “Stewball,” the audience waiting for the moment to pounce.

Humorous moments drew laughter while songs of pure, simple beauty had the room silent. As Watson closed the highly entertaining set with “On the Road Again,” it became obvious how infinite the folk-music canon is, and that despite him squeezing in tons of material, both familiar and un-, into the hour, it was like examining the contents of the ocean with a Dixie cup. No wonder the album is only Vol. 1. To prove the point, Watson saved the best for last, encoring with an excellent version of Ma Rainey’s “See See Rider,” blowing his harmonica in that gorgeous, mournful folk tradition and then finishing with a rousing, crowd-pleasing “Midnight Special.” The audience filed out, eager for more, already anticipating, I’m sure, Vol. 2. —A. Stein