Photo: Meredith Munn (Sacks & Co.)

Willie Watson: Folksinger Vol. 2

On Folksinger Vol. 2, Willie Watson once again establishes himself as a fine interpreter of song.
Willie Watson
Folksinger Vol. 2

There may be no better era to be alive for fans of folk music than this one. Contrary to belief, the communal vibe of the 1960s folk movement didn’t disappear so much as it expanded its roots into new and exciting avenues.

It’s arguable, but most might agree that in today’s landscape, those heading that modern folk scene are signed to Acony Records. The label has developed a corral of “authentic” folk sounds. Whether it’s in a smoky bar, a huge amphitheater, or around a campfire, that same feeling is what they’re aiming for.

Acony has procured a family out of its labelmates. Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, and Willie Watson are known for continually crossing over into each other’s projects when they aren’t fronting their own. Rawlings, in fact, produced Watson’s newest LP, Folksinger, Vol. 2 — a record coming about hot off the heels of his own Poor David’s Almanack.

Though it’s said that Watson wasn’t his own biggest fan when it came to Vol. 1 of his Folksinger ventures, here we are now with him and Dave yet again in the studio. For us folk enthusiasts, we’re grateful. Save for the occasional modern ornament thrown here in there for a gentle surprise or additional polish, this is once again a collection of unvarnished, rootsy folk music like we’ve come to expect of Watson.

As with Folksinger Vol. 1, no originals of Watson’s appear on Vol. 2. Including an entirely new song might well lose track of the Folksinger experience anyway. It’s in Watson’s twangy croon and the way he reworks songs that could be hundreds of years old into his own.

Here, he does just that — and he does it just as well as you’d imagine he would if you’d heard Vol. 1. Watson takes folk songs reimagined by major rock bands like the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin and returns them to their roots. He lays those roots into the soil as only he can. “Samson and Delilah” and “Gallows Pole” are just two examples of the sort of superb folk arrangements that Watson can lay down onto already-folk songs. The way that he can interpret a song through a particular style of performance brings listeners across a set of tunes that excite listeners, enhearten them, and even, at times, unnerve them.

Though he’s picking at his guitar and banjo as intricately as ever, there’s a certain underlying, deceptively simple charm that pervades the record. Therewithin is the real catch with artists like Watson. He genuinely seems to work with so little, yet he tends to pull at the heart just as well — if not better — than any stadium-filling pop band out there.

Folksinger, Vol. 2 is an album full of traditional people’s music, and it may just be that no one’s a better interpreter of authentic folk music today than Watson. He takes us back to another time while keeping us wholly in the present.

RATING 8 / 10