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Aaron Watson – Red Bandana album review

The independent Country star delivers an ambitious and bold new album.

Aaron Watson
Credit: Joseph Llanes

Credit: Big Label

Aaron Watson had the biggest career sales debut to date with his 2017 album Vaquero, which entered the Billboard 200 Album chart Top 10. With 20 years in the music industry under his belt, Watson has established himself as one of the genre’s biggest independent success stories. He’s performed over 2,500 shows across the US and Europe, and he releases his music via his own Big Label Records, distributed by ADA Worldwide. In 2018 he stepped in for Carrie Underwood at The Long Road Festival after the powerhouse singer pulled out due to medical advice as she was heavily pregnant. Watson performed in the headline slot and cemented his ever-increasing fanbase here in the UK. Recently Watson released Red Bandana, a 20-track new album to mark his 20-year career.

Every single song on Red Bandana was written solely by Watson and he co-produced the entire collection with Jordan Lehning. Often an album this lengthy is cause for concern about the quality but that’s definitely not the case with Red Bandana. As someone who has existed, and succeeded, without the machine of Music City behind him, Watson has plenty to say and boy does he say it. Opening track Ghost of Guy Clark takes aim at the hit factory that Nashville has become as Watson speak-sings about those who make music for fame and glory, and those that do it because they actually have something to say.

That song is followed by the short mariachi-tinged instrumental El Comienzo Del Viaje (The Beginning of the Trip), which turns into Dark Horse, an underdog anthem about pushing forward with your dreams regardless of the naysayers around you. The song is essentially Watson’s ethos for the last 20 years so if you’re going to believe anyone when they tell you to keep fighting for what you want, he’s the man you should be paying attention to.

One of the first standout moments on Red Bandana comes on the lusciously orchestrated Heartstrings. Watson shifts into romantic mode, singing to his wife Kimberly and celebrating her love and support. It’s a beautiful moment, with fantastic production and a heartfelt message. Elsewhere on the record Old Friend is one of the more commercial moments that could easily find a willing home on Country radio, Blood Brothers emphasises the importance of having someone in your corner, and Country Radio is a dreamy romantic moment.

Over the second half of the album Watson praises the comfort of being home in Home Sweet Home, he rocks out on the rousing Burn Em Down, and You On My Hands is a low-key sexy moment. The album comes to a close with the emotive 58, a one-minute track paying tribute to the 58 people that lost their lives in the shooting at Las Vegas’ Route 91 Harvest festival in 2017. It’s under-stated but incredibly moving and powerful, and it brings back just how raw that tragedy feels for our close-knit Country family.

Red Bandana may be a lengthy record but it never loses your interest. The collection is incredibly ambitious and it’s the kind of music that should be dominating the Country charts. Watson is a true storyteller and he has a distinctive style. His charisma pours from every song but more importantly these are songs written with heart and passion. There’s no box-checking here and no calculated efforts to get a number one, this is pure, good-old fashioned Country music where the lyrics do the talking and that’s what makes this album so fantastic.

Track list: 1. Ghost of Guy Clark 2. El Comienzo Del Viaje 3. Dark Horse 4. Heartstrings 5. Old Friend 6. Kiss That Girl Goodbye 7. Country Radio 8. Legends 9. Am I Amarillo 10. Blood Brothers 11. Live or Die Trying 12. Riding With Red 13. Red Bandana 14. Trying Like the Devil 15. Home Sweet Home 16. Burn Em Down 17. Shake a Heartache 18. You On My Hands 19. To Be The Moon 20. 58 Record label: Big Label Release date: 21st June 2019 Buy Red Bandana

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