Red Bandana

Aaron Watson

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Red Bandana Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Aaron Watson designed Red Bandana as a celebration of his 20 years in the music business. The 70-minute record sprawls over the course of 20 songs -- a track for every year he's been a professional country singer. All that space allows Watson to stretch to the outer limits of his comfort zone, playing every kind of music he finds interesting. Even if Red Bandana shows considerable stylistic range, Watson tips his hand by opening with "Ghost of Guy Clark," making his debt to the iconic Texas troubadour plain. While Watson may not stick to the dusty country Clark called his own, he keeps returning to a similar style of storytelling and also favors a soundscape that simultaneously seems lean and cinematic. Most of Red Bandana relies on this kind of appealingly weathered arrangement, which is why the departures are so vivid: "Am I Amarillo" is an easy-rolling nod to George Strait's "Amarillo by Morning," "Kiss That Girl Goodbye" bustles with arena rock energy, "Shake a Heartache" swings to a retro-rockabilly beat, and the brief Tejano interlude of "El Comienzo del Viaje" underscores the dramatic undercurrent running through the album. None of these left turns seem unexpected. Rather, every bit of Red Bandana flows easily, if sometimes charmingly crooked. After 20 years, Watson is allowed to take meandering indulgences like these, since he knows that all the mess and unfinished edges add up to a soulful, resonant record that sums up his restless, wandering spirit.

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