Willie Watson Credit: courtesy the artist

Willie Watson makes no bones about his allegiance to tradition on his new album, Folksinger Vol. 2 (Acony). In his liner notes he writes about his favorite versions of some of the tunes he performs: it takes a certain amount of guts to inform listeners about the Bascom Lamar Lunsford version of “Dry Bones” or the definitive reading of “Samson and Delilah” by Reverend Gary Davis while presenting your own renditions. Watson brings plenty of personality and ideas to his performances, whether it means enlisting Nashville black gospel greats Fairfield Four to sing harmony on “Samson and Delilah” or deploying a fragile woodwind ensemble on Blind Alfred Reed’s “Always Lift Him Up and Never Knock Him Down.” Most of the tracks are composed of just Watson’s acoustic guitar or banjo and the grainy, nasal beauty of his soulful voice—the latter is strong enough to leave an imprint on all 11 songs. As with its predecessor, Folksinger Vol. 1 (2014), the record was produced in no-frills fashion by David Rawlings—with whom Watson has been performing in recent years. Not only has Watson transcended his early days with the hokey Nashville string band Old Time Medicine Show, but on Folksinger Vol. 2 he brings something genuine and beautiful to elemental songs like “The Cuckoo Bird” and “John Henry,” and that’s what distinguishes someone who sings folk songs from a folksinger.   v