Country Jukebox Jury LP: Aaron Watson – American Soul

It’s odd to have a 10-song project from Aaron Watson, whose previous three have exceeded 15. The tight 31-minute ‘hit ‘em and quit’ approach is possibly meant to leave us wanting more, and Aaron has said that no sooner had this album leapt into world than his band are in the studio following it up.

The independent Texan artist who got out of Nashville only to have country radio fall for Outta Style knows what makes a hit. Now under no pressure to have one, he seems to be enjoying the same sort of career as Miranda Lambert or Brad Paisley: with nothing left to prove, he can enjoy himself.

Fans of Aaron know exactly what to expect: Texas music in all its forms. By the title alone, you can guess you will be served some very American, and very country, tunes, although it comes off like a checklist where he must tick off football, rock’n’roll, the military and cowboys while talking about love and stuff.

The album’s first ten seconds include a twanging guitar riff and a fiddle desperate to join in. That track, Silverado Saturday Night, is a smoochy song which hangs on the line ‘they don’t call it a truck bed for nothing!’ It’s a perfect opening track, which segues into Boots, which he ‘can’t keep on the ground’ on account of dancing with his beloved. It’s a rootsy three-chord tune that is instantly memorable and replayable.

Ditto Whisper My Name, another song dedicated to Aaron’s wife, his number one fan, which will find favour with married and loved-up couples among his fanbase, as well as on Texas country radio. The production is enormous and it’ll be another live favourite.

Out Of My Misery has Aaron begging his beloved not to ‘kick me when I’m down’. The chorus is strong and there are some delicious harmonies. Stay is sung with rapid-fire lyrics over some heartland rock chugging. Although its verse melody and message is very similar to Silverado Saturday Night’s, I am won over by a great chorus and the ‘NASCAR late nights’ in the second verse.

Having mentioned cars, Touchdown Town is all about gridiron. Guitars chug along hymning the ‘roar of the crowd’ at a Friday night football game. I like the middle eight, which mentions ‘trophies in the attic’ and makes the point that being a country performer mimics those days in pads and helmets.

Dog-lovers will adore Best Friend, a waltz about how ‘a dog will never break your heart’. In verse two, Aaron goes on a wild goose chase to find his friend only to end up at home seeing her wagging her tail on the swings! It’s very country, like Long Live Cowboys: ‘The world keeps changing, he won’t budge an inch!’ The great Chris LeDoux, to whom Garth Brooks owes most of his act, gets a namecheck over some chugging guitars, as does Guy Clark when Aaron sings of desperadoes waiting on trains.

The title track, in light of the recent riots, is a bit of wishful thinking. Aaron reckons Americans are united on many things, including arguing about politics, hanging out with grandparents and watching sport. Aaron sounds bombastic, quoting The Star-Spangled Banner and ‘In God We Trust’ on the penny. Phil Vassar’s song of the same name does this patriotic nationalism better, but Aaron’s version isn’t bad. But what is America in the post-Trump era of QAnon?

Album closer Dog Tags is another euphoric and American tune about how ‘heroes don’t wear capes’ but instead sport the titular tags which denote military service. It’s almost a power ballad sung for those who protect the red, white and blue, three colours which sum up this project.

There are three or four tracks that will make Aaron’s Best Of (Boots, Best Friend, Silverado Saturday Night, possibly Dog Tags). Rather than comparing him to Brad Paisley, maybe Ron Sexsmith or Bruce Springsteen are more apt comparisons. Like those two, we know what Aaron does and we like it. There aren’t any complaints in what he does, which is why American Soul is a lovely release.

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