Willie Watson, Lauren Shera | Schubas | Folk & Country | Chicago Reader
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Willie Watson

Willie Watson

Monkeybird

Willie Watson, Lauren Shera 

When: Tue., May 19, 8 p.m. 2015
Price: $15
On last year’s Folk Singer Vol. 1 (Acony) singer Willie Watson changes from one costume to another, shedding the hillbilly duds he wore as a member of Old Crow Medicine Show in order to don the austere look of a collegiate folk revivalist (the album cover includes a photo of him sucking on a tobacco pipe). Both poses are self-conscious, but the new one sure works better. All ten songs on the record, produced by Dave Rawlings, are taken from the old-school hootenanny repertoire, including several Leadbelly gems, a tune by Cannon’s Jug Stompers, and one learned from an old Roscoe Holcomb record. Watson adeptly plays acoustic guitar and banjo, but it’s his voice that separates this stuff from his past work. The grainy, nasal quality of his singing gives dog-eared themes new life, bringing a celebratory joy to “Midnight Special,” a sorrowful ache to the Memphis Slim song “Mother Earth,” and a piercing, high-lonesome vibrato to “Mexican Cowboy.” There’s no reason to throw out Bob Dylan’s first record, but Watson certainly has distinguished himself with Folk Singer. —Peter Margasak
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