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Bobby Watt "Watt Next?" MINWATT0302

I write this review from my home here in Grimsby, England. I tell you this because after three full plays, the first thing I now think of when I listen to this album is a curious behavioural trait exhibited by some of my fellow-British countrymen, who visit France for a short holiday, and "go native" with a vengeance. They come back writing "continental sevens"!

This guy Watt must be the absolute antithesis of such characters. For here is a fellow who emigrated from Scotland to Canada in 1975, but who, now over a quarter of a century later, still sings in a spectacularly unadulterated Scots accent. More power to his elbow (or should that be his "vocal chords"?) I reckon.

This is his fourth CD, and good enough to make me rather wish I had come across his previous three. Clearly, if they are anything like this one, that was my loss. His warm voice and capable backing musicians engage you from the start.

The voice is quite similar to another Scot who, shortly before Watt, also left his native land in search of the New World. Eric Bogle. But the difference is that the Aussie vowel sounds have manifestly made inroads into Bogle's diction, whereas Watt sounds like he has never been to London ENGLAND, let alone London ONTARIO.

The album is largely a mixture of his interpretations of the contemporary and the traditional, with a few self-penned songs thrown in. It is fair to say that here, unlike with many CDs one reviews, no single track strikes one as being an obvious error of judgement. Yes it is true that I do not share his clear passion for that mildly pretentious Eagles' favourite "Desperado", but by golly, he really delivers it in fine style. As he does one of Dylan's less-celebrated songs "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You".

But the real moment of magic, is his version of Robert Burns's "Westlin' Winds". It alone is worth the price of the CD. It is unforgettable, and here is for why.

Now, I don't know: maybe I have led a sheltered life. Perhaps Watt is tapping-into an ancient vocal tradition: but I promise you, I have never encountered it before. This is what he does with this most famous of Scottish songs: he slowly speaks the immortal words, and then maybe thirty seconds in, he SINGS a line-ending. Then he recites more of the words, and then again sings, but this time, a longer bit. And then it becomes ALL song.

It is a truly PROFOUND experience for the listener. First, it is as if he is slowly reciting the words to let you examine the goods. He knows that these are majestic words, and I guess he ALSO knows that were he to sing them from the "top of the page", many listeners new to Burns would sort of switch off, despite the fine melody. So what better, than to sedately roll them off his tongue?

And then when the melodic bit is added (as I say, GRADUALLY, like a swimmer dipping first toe, then foot, into the Sea of Melody on a cold day) it is as if the WORDS TAKE FLIGHT!)

And just like with a young bird leaving the nest, the first couple of attempts help one to see one's potential, and the third go sees one soar off and defy gravity. Burns's words genuinely SOAR towards the heavens.

Whether Bobby Watt hit upon this idea himself, or he borrowed the technique from a favourite source singer, I know not. All I do know is that it is something that he would do well to incorporate into some more of his repertoire. And other singers too.

Of course it does not work with anything less than sublimely good lyrics. With so much of what one hears today, this technique would fail dismally, since the words would not survive close inspection.

But I close in thanking Bobby Watt for a very respectable album, and a genuine moment of epiphany.

Dai Woosnam

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This album was reviewed in Issue 49 of The Living Tradition magazine.