Bluegrass / Country / Folk / Gig Reviews

LIVE REVIEW: Willie Watson

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Willie Watson + My Bubba + Imogen Clark @ Factory Theatre, Sydney March 16th 2017

To a smattering of punctual punters, Imogen Clark, accompanied by her father on bass, rode a wave of post-Nashville jet lag to showcase songs from her debut album and a preview of her next one. She’s a bubbly, confident performer who nailed her songs with a professional approach but one senses she’s still peeling back her artistic layers and refining her craft. It’ll be interesting to see whether she gravitates towards the polish of Nashville or the grittier, darker side of the road.

Scandinavia has always had a deep appreciation for country and folk music believe it or not. My Bubba is the latest in a long line of acts who put their own unique twist on American roots music, invariably adding a fresh take on traditional sounds. Beginning with an a cappella folk song, accompanied by synchronised hand and body clapping, they drew the audience into their performance. Fleshing out their songs with guitar and a Norwegian Cittra (lap harp) the clean-cut duo’s sweetness was a smokescreen for dark subject matter and a gentle gothic-noir mood, mixed with a line in dry humour.

A frequent visitor to these shores in recent times, Willie Watson knows how to command a stage and pace a set. He knows when to switch to banjo, but not too often because “too much banjo can make you feel nauseous”. He knows when to detour into telling tales of racist ex-bandmates and Melbourne woman with a bee in her bonnet about the subject matter in his songs. Uncomfortably he also revealed he’s been dealing with nerve damage affecting his left hand and the difficulties it presents in performing live. Little in his playing suggested that though as his percussive guitar playing and fast, rhythmic banjo picking was strong and as commanding as always. The audience responded to his ingratiating stage manner with whoops and hollers and sing-a-longs on songs such as Stewball before he left the half-full but enthusiastic room with his take on what has become his signature tune, Midnight Special and a special encore, accompanied by My Bubba, of a wonderful and restrained version of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.

Chris Familton

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