Saturday, January 31, 2015

Album Review: Darren Watson - Introducing Darren Watson (2014)

I mentioned in an earlier post how I’d been fortunate enough to sit down to chat with local bluesman Darren Watson. That conversation formed the basis of a feature piece for the December/January issue of NZ Musician magazine – click here for the online version, Bugged by the Blues.

Watson was also kind enough to present me with a CD copy of his latest album, Introducing Darren Watson. I found the album title something of an oddity given that Watson has already released four prior solo albums, plus another couple of even earlier albums under the guise of former band Chicago Smoke Shop. But I suppose, given the massive increase in national profile Watson enjoyed during 2014, the “introducing” part was perhaps rather fitting for some.

For those of us living in Wellington though, Watson needs no introduction, in fact he might just about be the hardest working “live” artist of the past couple of decades in terms of gigging in and around the capital – and that’s no exaggeration.

Actually, scrap the word “capital” and replace it with the words “lower North Island”, from support slots with major international acts to gigs in tiny bars/cafes/halls in places like Tokomaru and Paekakariki. For Watson, it’s clearly all about spreading the gospel.

As you’d expect, Introducing Darren Watson immediately comes across as the work of a seasoned pro.  The work of someone who has finely honed his craft over many years of playing live. Andrew Downes and Mike Gibson get the production and mastering spot on without attempting to polish things up too much – it is primarily a blues album after all, keeping things relatively rough around the edges is part of its charm.

If the album threw up the odd surprise or two (for me), they were merely reminders of just how versatile Watson is. For all that I say it is “primarily” a blues album, it isn’t “just” a blues album … there’s nods to old school soul, there’s slabs of funk, and there’s parts that skirt around the outer regions of a number of different genres. It rocks, rolls, and grooves in equal portions.

The key to a lot of that of course is Watson’s superb guitar playing, but it’s also obvious that his vocal has only improved with age – there’s something compelling about a more lived-in voice … the subtle nuances, the changes in tone and emphasis, the sense that Watson has actually lived some of the life experiences he’s singing about is a critical element to the authenticity of this work.

There’s eight Watson compositions – I’m an instant convert on opening stomper ‘Some Men’, and things only get better from there – plus two gems penned by fellow Wellingtonian Bill Lake, the well-worn ‘I Wanna Be With You’, and the hugely seductive ‘Thought I’d Seen It All’.

Overall, Introducing Darren Watson is a more than worthy addition to an already outstanding catalogue of work from New Zealand’s premier bluesman – you can pick up a copy from Watson’s Bandcamp page here.

Watson’s website is here.

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