Old-style sound gets back to basics

Musician Willie Watson
Musician Willie Watson

Willie Watson sounds as though he might have been a pioneer of the 1950s and 60s US folk music revival.

The approach is stripped back to basics, incorporating blues, country and gospel as he sings and plays guitar and banjo on folk standards and less well-known material.

Yet Watson is not yet 40. His musical path was shaped partly by his father's record collection, which included artists such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Lead Belly, and by digging back into old 78s of fiddle tunes.

Sheffield was given a taste of his authentic style when he played the Greystones in July 2015, following the release of his debut solo album Folksinger Vol. 1.

Now he is returning, this time to the bigger venue of Sheffield Hallam Students’ Union’s Hubs in Paternoster Row on Saturday, January 19, when he has a follow-up album to dip into. Surprise, surprise, it’s called Folksinger Vol. 2.

It encapsulates the spirit of American folk music touching upon Southern gospel, railroad songs, Delta blues, Irish fiddle tunes and Appalachian music and passing songs popularised by artists such as Lead Belly and the Reverend Gary Davis to the attention of a new generation.

Old-time credentials are burnished through a production by David Rawlings and recording on analogue tape at studios in Nashville.

“I’m not trying to prove any point here and I’m not trying to be a purist,” says Watson, who was born in New York State and was a founder member of the Old Crow Medicine Show.

“There’s so much beauty in this old music, and it affects me on a deep level. It moves me and inspires me.

“I heard Lead Belly singing with the Golden Gate Quartet and it sounded fantastic, and I thought, ‘I want to do that.’

“I heard the Grateful Dead doing their version of On the Road Again, and it sounded like a dance party in 1926, and I wanted to do that, too.

“That’s the whole reason I ever played music in the first place — because it looked and sounded like it was going to be a lot of fun.”