by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com
It’s been six years since Willie Watson left Old Crow Medicine Show, the massively popular string band he helped form. And it’s been three years since he release Folksinger Vol. 1. But he’s back now with Folksinger Vol. 2. Produced by David Rawlings, the set of traditional folk tunes is as sparse and special as the other releases that come through Acony Records, beautifully fulfilling its torch-passing purpose.
Watson culled a batch of songs once sung by the likes of Lead Belly, the Grateful Dead, Furry Lewis, and others. The album’s opener — and first single — Reverend Gary Davis’s “Samson and Delilah” features the Fairfield Four, but it’s the second track, “Gallows Pole,” that delivers a true gut punch. A woodwind ensemble paints the cut’s captivating backdrop as Watson’s vibrato lilts and lulls its way through the heartrending tale. On the very next song, “When My Baby Left Me,” he bends toward the blues and leans into the creaks and squeaks of his acoustic slide guitar. Then, out comes a banjo for “Dry Bones” to round out the full folk repertoire.
Across the album, Watson puts his spin on railroad tunes, minstrel songs, English traditionals, and work songs, bringing each one forward to a new generation with the help of Gillian Welch, Morgan Jahnig, and Paul Kowert. In addition to being a time capsule for fans in the here and now, Folksinger Vol. 2 may well be an entry point to the past for some young, aspiring folkie.