For an artist who’s all too familiar with the concept of being self-made, Aaron Watson brings unity and fundamental values on his latest record. The nation’s blue-collar workers, spirited patriots and idealists all find their unison across the singer’s 10 tracks. Known for his independence as an artist, the 20-year musical veteran brings a simple touch to the country scene that’s enjoyed his storied success. Since his breakout in 2015, Watson has combined what he describes as the “grit”, “hustle” and “hard work” of every citizen in his music. The Texas native pours these values into every track while showing a spirited, careless nature. But with all the newer ambience that he sets, Watson keeps the songwriting “old school” and “timeless”.
2015’s chart-topping record, Underdog, showed Watson as a folk hero for every “true cowboy” down south. As an independent artist, he had risen into prominence with a legion of loyalist fans from the rodeo circuit. American Soul reels in all the good times and appreciations of modern country without abandoning his own classic take. The album’s single “Whisper My Name” pays tribute to those early days in Watson’s career. As he gives a salute to those who’ve followed him throughout his career, Watson ushers a formulaic rendition of country with pop energy. But these are combined without being repetitive as the fiddle and slide guitar build around Watson’s shout out to the fans.
While followers of Watson’s music will notice the switch in gears from other material, newer fans can equate the singer to today’s commercial style. But Watson still shows the core style that amassed him millions of followers. In the buoyant opener “Silverado Saturday Night” blends the modern lyrical approach to the genre with a traditional rock appeal that defined the south. This track does more than act as starting point for the album. It showcases a new chapter for the songwriter’s music as he embraces the music of today in his sonic diversity. While there’s still more to come, the intro is a bold sentiment that the singer can keep it simple but memorable.
Collectively, both mentioned tracks have cumulated over 2 million streams with monthly listeners continually building on his Spotify account. While he turns it up and goes all out on the tracks “Long Live Cowboys” and “Touchdown Town” he brings it down in the self-titled track. “American Soul” shows the tender side that brings hardcore traditionalists together with the modern partiers. The roaring steel in Watson’s vocals ring the freedom that built the country into how every citizen envisions. Its inclusion of the standard instrumentation creates a banner for the tracks chorus as it borrows many traditional words used in an American anthem.
The power and soul from the title track remains as the highlight for the record as Watson honors every citizen. Through his affection for America, Watson’s strength in his music takes a dark direction in the follow-up track. “Out of My Misery” paints a picture of hardship and sorrow while Watson resonates with all who’ve been heartbroken. Even with the vibe changing suddenly, the music maintains its high energy before a stark send off finishes it. But it’s the album’s closer that truly shows what the singer is most thankful for. “Dog Tags” gives a good tribute to the troops and military veterans whom the singer’s admired all his life. The line “never cared too much for Superman” sets the tone for how Watson sees those who’ve risked everything. A soft beginning that crescendos all the way into the bridge utter the superhero trend of being more than human. In Watson’s lyrics, the true hero’s lie not on the big screen but in the crosshairs.
Watson has hinted at a dual release of records to commemorate a new year for the country. American Soul being just one-half leaves millions to anticipate how he follows-up with a new set of listeners. Whether he continues to evolve his style or stick with his roots, fans can be sure that Watson will still deliver works that cover what its country values. Straight from his heart to millions of others.
Reviewed by Trenton Luber