Album Review – Aaron Watson’s ‘Vaquero’

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Aaron Watson is undoubtedly one of the biggest stars of the Texas country scene. In terms of stature and achievements, he’s the Luke Bryan of the scene. Watson has racked up numerous #1 hits at Texas radio and has established quite a following over his career. He also achieved a historic accomplishment with his last album The Underdog, becoming the first ever independent, male country artist to debut at #1 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart. It’s a feat that has since been accomplished by more, but it was significant because it made many in the industry realize that independent artists can sell better than many major label artists. It also brought him onto the radar of many mainstream fans. So his follow-up and new album Vaquero certainly comes more anticipated than any of his previous releases. At 16 songs long I wasn’t sure what to expect. The result for the most part is quality country music.

The easy-going “Texas Lullaby” opens up the album. The song is about a guy named Texas from Texas who goes to serve in the army. It’s a pretty cliché song that takes a very contrived approach. The fiddle and steel guitar play is nice, but that doesn’t automatically absolve the lyrics of course. The next song “Take You Home Tonight” though does a much better job of striking a good balance between the lyrics and instrumentation. The song is about a couple spending the night at home together. The theme is slightly bro-ish, but Watson’s charismatic delivery and the fantastic instrumentation really carry the song well. “These Old Boots Have Roots” is probably the best traditional meets modern country song I’ve heard yet. It’s infectious, catchy and fun from the first listen, utilizing the fiddle well. This song demonstrates Watson’s ability to get the most out of songs with his likable and down home personality. Watson also excels best on love ballads like “Be My Girl.” I especially enjoy how the instrumentation really lets this song breathe and at the same time enhance the mood the song is going for.

Watson laments things not being the same as in the past on “They Don’t Make Like They Used To.” It’s a song that relies on nostalgia and at first kind of comes off curmudgeonly championing the past. But halfway through it comes back around. It touches on how we need more love, compassion and forgiveness in the world so that one day we might be looked back upon as the golden days. Your mileage will vary on this one. The album’s title track has a decidedly Tejano influence, which is great to hear. The song is about a man sitting down at the bar with an old vaquero, who bestows upon him the lessons he’s learned in his long life. It’s essentially along the same lines as the Billy Currington hit “People Are Crazy,” but I think this song does a better job of getting it’s point across. “Mariano’s Dream” is a prelude to “Clear Isabel,” arguably the best track on Vaquero. The song is about Isabel and her father Mariano, a Mexican lawman. After watching his son die at the hands of a drug cartel, Mariano packs their stuff and sets their sites for freedom in south Texas. They are discovered by a Texas man who offers them shelter and work. In the meanwhile the Texas man falls in love with Isabel, marry and have a child. They are also able to obtain a green card for her father, but unfortunately it comes too late as he’s gunned down. It’s a tragic, timely song that conveys the risks people take to seek freedom and a better life.

“One Two Step at a Time” is a song I can imagine will be a hit at the Texas dance halls. Watson gets conciliatory on “The Arrow,” which reads like advice from a father to a child. While a tad sappy, it has a good message of spreading love and kindness. Watson’s charm once again elevates an ordinary song to something I will remember. The album closes out with another standout, “Diamonds & Daughters.” It’s about a father conveying how proud and how much he loves his daughter. He recalls the first time he saw her face to now giving her off at her wedding day. The guitar-play compliments the lyrics well and gives the song some much-needed texture. It’s a great, heartfelt way to end the album.

Vaquero is a pretty solid album from Aaron Watson. I think it’s even better than his previous album The Underdog. But at the same time I can’t help but feel it should have been even better and I think the biggest culprit of this album is the album length. It’s just too long at 16 songs and I think if it was culled down to 12 songs it would have made for an overall better listen. Nevertheless there are some really good moments on this album and they outweigh the more pedestrian moments you might have to wade through. For fans of Texas country there will be a lot to like and for the curious mainstream fan this album will harken them back to the days of early 2000s country. Vaquero will further endear fans of Watson and will surely attract more seeking the sweet sounds of fiddle and steel guitar.

Grade: 7/10

 

Recommend? – Yes

Album Highlights: Clear Isabel, Diamonds & Daughters, Vaquero, Be My Girl, Take You Home Tonight, These Old Boots Have Roots

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: Texas Lullaby, Big Love in a Small Town, Amen Amigo, Rolling Stone, Run Wild Horses


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5 thoughts on “Album Review – Aaron Watson’s ‘Vaquero’

  1. Very good review.
    The album is good but too long. The tracks are good but not outstanding. Aaron Watson fans will like the album & first-time listeners will not be disappointed (well…maybe the two people who bought the Chris Lane album).
    I miss the “freshness” but i’m glad “Outta Style” is the worst song. (7/10)

    New Album: Christie Lamb – Loaded – 13 Tracks – Self Release – Released (02/24)
    After the awful new Adam Brand album (Get On Your Feet) the next australian country artists released a god-awful album. Loaded contains one “country” song (“I Get Back Up”), one pop radio-friendly uptempo tune (“Boomerang”), one multiformat ballad (“Judgement Day”) & a lot of loud pop-rock tracks like the first single “Flamethrower”. (1/10)

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  2. Honestly, I really enjoyed this a lot.

    I’ll get my nitpicks out here – it’s not that any of the songs are necessarily “bad” lyrically, but there are definitely lackluster moments like “Big Love In A Small Town”, “Amen Amigo”, and “Rolling Stone”, and really, that speaks to my biggest issue (and yours as well) – the length. It’s enjoyable all throughout, don’t get me wrong, but there are moments (like the ones mentioned above) that literally add nothing of value to the project (and are done better by other tracks on this album!)

    But man, if you want a record that’s really getting to me in a way that it probably shouldn’t, it’s this one. You see, where the lyrical content isn’t really “blow you away” quality, I really liked a lot of the instrumentation and production on this album. The best way to describe the atmosphere would be…idk…colorful? Bright? Full of life? Eh, whatever. You get my point. Really though, Aaron took some risks in terms of the sound here, and it really pays off for me.

    The first half of this album isn’t afraid to go for some more modern arrangements (“These Old Boots Have Roots”, “They Don’t Make Them Like They Used To”, “Clear Isabel”) while at the same time never compromising Aaron’s style. It’s something I noticed when I heard “Boots” the first time and it was something I had hoped Aaron pushed for this album, and he did!

    Aside from that, there’s also just some really great songs here – I absolutely love both “These Old Boots…” and “Clear Isabel”, especially the latter with the way it only seems to get darker and heavier the farther you get into it. And the other moments? Hell, they’re fun, and let’s face it, at this point if you’re going to Watson you’re more likely interested in the sound than the lyrics anyway, and like I said, when he’s expanding that sound, it’s a really winning combination.

    I’ll spend more time with this, but this is right behind Infamous Stringdusters for my favorite album this year so far.

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  3. Everyone should listen to “Clear Isabel.” Brilliant song. Like Leon said above, the instrumentation elevates this album. I love the instrumentation on “Run Wild Horses,” for example, but lyrically, it’s not that spectacular. I would have enjoyed it more if it were shorter, but overall, a pretty nice listen.

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  4. After the first three songs, this album somewhat reminded me of Jon Pardi’s California Sunrise. Lyrically, a bit weak in spots (Amen Amigo, Big Love in a Small Town, Run Wild Horses), but altogether, a very good album with some great songs (Clear Isabel, Take You Home Tonight, These Old Boots Have Roots, Be My Girl, Diamonds and Daughters). And sonically, the songs sound great. I’m a sucker for fiddle and steel, and there’s tons of it here. Unlike California Sunrise, Vaquero is wayyyy too long. However, like California Sunrise, it is a solid album, and in my opinion, what country music should sound like.

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