One of these days I'm gonna be a big noise
Photo by Simon Weller
Lee Bob Watson is not going to the Next Big Thing. He won't be setting the next magazine-cover trend and he's dangerously out of step with French house and Brooklyn lofts. You also won't see him leapfrogging to the top of the Hype Machine anytime soon. Thank God for that. Although "living in the past just won't do" as he claims in one song, his music is refreshingly old-fashioned, classic more than contemporary, a rejuvenated update on time-tested tropes. He reminds me of other great blenders of rock, country, folk, soul and Southwestern like Howe Gelb and Alejandro Escovedo, but also older pioneers like Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.
Watson's greatest asset is his passion, which reliably threads through the album. When he punishingly declares "It's not enough!" on "Stranger To Myself," his voice soars to a desperate but convincing octave. When he suggests "Let's start a band" on the song of the same name, he does it with a joy and an excitement of discovery that you rarely hear expressed anymore. Led by Marc Snegg's rollicking Joplin-esque piano, the music backs up that sense of rebellion and youth. And even tracks that are more restrained, like meditative opener "Landfill," stand out with Watson's pithy observations and committed deliveries.
Although his deference to tradition is admirable and effective, there are also moments on Aficionado that take bold chances. The most notable is the penultimate song, "1958," which starts out slow and conservative, a house band at an Eisenhower-era school dance. You can practically see the girls in pink dresses and boys in pomade and navy-blue suits standing a respectable distance apart, the punchbowl and chaperones on the sidelines. Meanwhile, Watson is moaning, "Things are gonna change. Things are gonna change" like a promise or a warning. Midway into the song, things do indeed change, when the placid music is suddenly overtaken by a psychedelic, electric, acid-trip Beatles groove. And even after that sonic dialectic, he keeps on chanting, "Things are gonna change. Things are gonna change" like a celebration or a law of physics.
In a way, "1958" is an appropriate summary of Aficionado at large. It's a look back and an appreciation of what came before, but also a reassessment and a fresh, inspired interpretation. Lee Bob Watson isn't interested in chasing trends or sounding dated, but rather in chronicling the debris and the junkheaps of generations. If he's a man out of time, that's because he also makes music that feels so wonderfully timeless.
Aficionado comes out on Grassroots Records on August 24th. You can preorder a copy of it here.
* MP3: "Landfill" - Lee Bob Watson from Aficionado
* MP3: "Let's Start A Band" - Lee Bob Watson from Aficionado [Preorder it]
* Artist Website: Lee Bob Watson