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.
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