Geraint Watkins has released three solo albums over 25 years, but don’t let the lack of solo material fool you. The “Celtic Cajun”, as he’s been dubbed by some, has worked with a hell of a lot of talented people such as Dave Edmunds, Tom Jones, Nick Lowe, Paul McCartney, and Van Morrison. And it’s not a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Watkins is from another era, an era when Fats Domino could be heard on some rickety old am/fm radio. Recently opening for Nick Lowe on a North American tour, Watkins and his fingers dazzled the Toronto audience with a boogie, ragtag, ragtime blend of rock, soul, blues, and country that had those who usually ignore the opener taking note. This album is further proof that Watkins isn’t lucky, simply damn good!
The 14 tracks run the genre gamut but the album starts with a gospel-leaning “Two Rocks” as Watkins is alone with his organ to play a solemn and tender song that will have people swooning. However, he turns the album on its side with the arse-boogie hoe-down that is “Turn That Chicken Down”, which sounds a cross between Fats Domino and Moby’s Play. Using horns and an acoustic guitar with a slide guitar added later on, the song makes you want a hearty pile of chitlins and grits. The seemingly brief use of samples never dampens the tune, but a brief ethereal moment in the bridge would have some people confused. Thankfully it gets back on course with oodles of Sun Records-era boogie-woogie. Then comes the lovely little country folk ditty entitled “Be My Love” that recalls the collaboration between Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins. Laid back and yet with a catchy beat, the tune is one you should never tire of, much like Dire Straits’ “The Bug”. “Blessed With Happiness” has a slightly darker and seedier side to it as Watkins gives a soulful delivery with barely audible growls between some lines.
Watkins ability to be like a “Zelig” of musical niches is what makes this album so bloody special. Immersing himself in each song is what gets the light, island-like flavor of “The Whole Night Through” as integral to the record as “Turn That Chicken Down”. The backing arrangement is the key as the performer adds just a pinch of keyboard or organ in the background. The song’s closing gets a little heavy on the percussion but it just ambles along to near perfection, making you hope it goes on just another few seconds longer than it does. An old-school hip-hop (and I mean old school hip-hop as in Sam and Dave or Booker T) arrangement has the instrumental “Cold War” coming off like a James Brown demo, minus the Godfather of Soul himself. The swaying and swinging “Heroes and Villains” has Watkins scatting briefly as a “sho be doo be do be do” harmony is supporting him.
Perhaps the highlight of the album comes in a slow but steady soul song Watkins performs entitled “Soldier Of Love”. Although it’s not as groovy as other tracks, it reeks of the old school soul that has been gone from radio for decades. A great keyboard/organ solo has Watkins be-bopping between tickling the ivories. He improves on this later with “Bring Me the Head of My So Called Lover” which has Watkins being more emphatic in his vocals. But he reverts to the rockier side of things with a toe-tapping “I’m Just Crazy About You” that could have come from a Creedence Clearwater Revival album. Adding guitars but not getting in the way of Watkins is another plus here as he hums briefly between verses. A harmonica fades the song out but not before a delightful two minutes is up.
The one knock about the album is that Watkins could probably do a double album of this without breaking a sweat. “Only a Rose” is just as shining and stellar as anything else here, but gets into the blues with a harmony vocal in the distance. “Only a rose for my darling,” he sings before an accordion is heard. The faint purring is proof that even Watkins is quite satisfied with the effort. And it only gives greater credibility to this being such a great “live” studio album. Watkins is caught in a time warp and we are so much better off for it.