Album Review – Aaron Watson’s ‘Vaquero’

aaron-watson-vaquero-album-coverIf Vaquero proves anything, it proves that Aaron can do it all at this point – fun songs, love songs, darker songs, serious songs…you name it. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a fan of the guy for awhile, and he’s always been pretty dang solid (and a nice guy to boot). But this album? Well folks, the blog is but a young one, and yet I’m already going to use a term I normally hate using when describing an artist – evolution.

Normally it’s just a term that the “business” likes to cram down your throat to cover up why country radio doesn’t sound country these days, but it’s easy to forget that it really is something that naturally happens for artists over the duration of their careers.

Vaquero somehow manages to be extremely modern, and yet never once compromises Aaron’s roots as a country artist. It’s honestly brilliant stuff, and really leaves me at a loss of words for what to really capture it as. It’s mostly notable at the beginning. A lot of neo-traditional acts are harking back to the days of 90’s country, and hell, I love that. However, it’s cool to see songs such as “These Old Boots Have Roots”, “Take You Home Tonight”, and “They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To” all incorporate more modern arrangements. It’s hard really describing what makes them so modern, but it’s really just one of those things you can hear so to say. I give a ton of credit to both Aaron as well as producer Marshall Altman for crafting this type of sound.

Now, many will criticize this album for its lack of more meatier songs in terms of the lyricism, and at sixteen tracks, it’s fair. In some ways it’s a very minor criticism I have. But honestly, at this point, if you are listening to Aaron Watson you’re going more for the instrumentation and energetic vocal performances than anything else. The good part is that he doubled down on his strengths. Sure, I could do without tracks like “Big Love In A Small Town”, “Amen Amigo”, and “Rolling Stone” that are done somewhat better by other tracks on this album, but again, it’s hard to criticize Watson that much considering the focus isn’t really on the lyrics anyway.

Besides, there’s exceptions to the rule anyway. The title track is sort of like Billy Currington’s “People Are Crazy”. We have a younger guy who meets an older man at a bar and the two strike up a conversation about life, love and the meaning of. Sometimes the advice is serious, sometimes it’s humorous, and it’s a moment that really also shows off Aaron’s personality as a singer. Then of course you have the best track on this album, “Clear Isabel”, a track that tells of a Mexican family trying to get over to South Texas to escape the hell they’re living in in Mexico. It continuously gets darker and heavier as the song progresses, and it honestly may be the best song Watson has done to date.

Again, there’s sixteen tracks, and obviously I’m not going to get to every single one, but I do want to readdress the two main takeaways with Vaquero. One, it’s a traditional country album that really manages to push the boundaries of country music in the best way possible, and two, with Watson, you’re going to get it all. You’ll get the absolute fun jams like “Take You Home Tonight”, “Outta Style”, and “One Two Step At A Time”, the more serious songs such as “Diamonds and Daughters”, “Clear Isabel” (along with “Mariano’s Dream”), and “The Arrow”, and some really other great songs as well such as the title track and “Texas Lullaby”. I wondered how Watson would follow up The Underdog, especially considering the success he had with it in 2015, but he followed it in a way that I really liked seeing – growing while never losing sight of who you are.

In many ways, I love this album for the same reason I loved Infamous Stringdusters’ Laws Of Gravity earlier this year. The arrangements are colorful and bright, and while I prefer the latter for it’s poetic lyrical content, Watson is honing his strengths elsewhere – being himself.

B+/A- (8.5/10)

Ranking The Tracks (#1 being my favorite, #15 being my least favorite)

Love:

  1. Clear Isabel & Mariano’s Dream
  2. These Old Boots Have Roots
  3. They Don’t Make Em Like They Used To
  4. The Arrow
  5. Be My Girl

Like:

  1. Texas Lullaby
  2. Take You Home Tonight
  3. Vaquero
  4. Diamonds and Daughters
  5. Outta Style
  6. One Two Step At A Time
  7. Run Wild Horses

Meh:

  1. Rolling Stone
  2. Amen Amigo
  3. Big Love In A Small Town

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