While English singer/songwriter Lewis Watson, after having his pick of label offers, signed with Warner Bros. for his 2014 full-length debut, The Morning, he opted for the independent label Cooking Vinyl for his follow-up, Midnight. Besides touring, the album also follows a self-imposed six-month break from songwriting, one intended to refresh both ideas and attitude. When he was ready to write, he headed to the studio with friends Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht of Oh Wonder, and the songs came quickly. With a tightknit crew (West produced) and an absence of interference from outsiders, Watson ramps up his sound with Midnight, if without transforming the essence of his simple, heartfelt songwriting style. Building on his previously synth-enhanced acoustic demeanor is a tougher-sounding, fully electric live band. The album opens with a rumbling guitar tone on "Maybe We're Home," alerting loyal fans of change. With layers of reverberating guitar, synths, and crashing cymbals, "Give Me Life" is arguably the lushest track here. While certainly robust, it's a sound that shimmers much more than rocks, just to be clear that this isn't a reinvention so much as an invigoration. The live-in-studio effect can be detected on tracks like "Deep the Water," where imperfections in the vocal performance are allowed in the mix. The first song written after returning from his break, it's a love song with sustained guitar and strings that build to amphitheater-ready choruses in the second half. Even so, some of the more memorable tunes here end up being of the intimate, stripped-down variety. That's perhaps partly due to the contrast they provide, but the melodies and vocal performances are more engaging, too, on songs like "Run" and "Slumber." Both guitar ballads, the latter is an elegant duet with countrywoman Lucy Rose and an album highlight. Spoiler alert: "Slumber" also precedes a hidden song, the quiet piano ballad "(Midnight)."
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AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson