Darren Watson is a stalwart of the New Zealand blues scene with a lineage in the bands Chicago Smoke Shop and Midge Marsden Band. Primarily he’s cut his teeth as an electric guitarist and singer so this acoustic record is a departure from the template and as a result it feels like a special project.
The band (guitar, bass, piano, percussion, harmonica) were recorded live, for the most part using traditional recording techniques including valve and ribbon microphones. That attention to detail and commitment to authenticity comes through on these eight songs. There’s an exceptional sonic quality where clarity meets rough edges and an intimate human shuffle and swing. You can hear exactly what this is – traditional blues in the 21st century, recorded in a room with highly proficient and empathetic musicians.
Watson knows that to sing of railroads and cotton fields in the blues oeuvre is a cop out in this day and age. Instead he steps back and takes stock of the modern world with a cutting take on money and war, the politics of poverty in New Zealand, the lingering aftermath of a relationship and a tribute to one of his fellow kiwi bluesmen, Rick Bryant. It all amounts to an excellent album, a wonderful example of highly relatable and finely executed contemporary blues.