Living the 'Good Life'
A lack of unexpected turns and musical surprises has been the downfall of many an album by otherwise gifted performers, who have been hampered by a reluctance to stretch beyond their comfort zone.
The opposite holds true on "A Good Life," the gently alluring new release by veteran San Diego singer-songwriter Peggy Watson. She'll celebrate its release Friday with a concert at the Swedenborgiain Hall, where she'll be accompanied by nine accomplished musical pals.
The 12-song album, her ninth, finds Watson subtly honing her musical approach, rather than reinventing it. Happily, this works equally well for her and her audience
Hearing Watson's angelic soprano voice is a treat. This holds true whether she's singing folk (the luminous "Most of All"), urbane pop ("Saving Everyone"), jazzy ballads ("My Old Friend") or earthy country reveries ("Baby I Love You," "Gone Just Like a Train"). Then there's her new album's lilting title track, which sounds like a lost Joni Mitchell gem from the early 1970s.
Watson's purity of tone, pinpoint control and glorious range are matched throughout by her unerring good taste. Equally notable is her aversion to showboating. She is clearly determined to never let the song at hand be overshadowed by her formidable vocal skills, which at times suggest a missing link between Mitchell and Judy Collins, in their respective primes.
"A Good Life" was lovingly co-produced by Watson and Dave Blackburn. He and longtime Watson partner Dave Beldock both play guitar on the album.
Both will be on stage with her at Friday's concert at Swedenborg Hall. So will bassist Paul Beach, keyboardist Ed Kornhauser, flutist and clarinet player Chris Klich, and singers Robin Adler, Allison Adams Tucker, and Elizabeth and Betsy Podsiadlo. Those unable to attend can check out Watson's music online at peggywatson.com.
Peggy Watson: Press
A Good Life
In Peggy Watson, the San Diego folk music scene boasts a jewel that continues to shine year after year, and album after album. No surprise, then, that her latest disc (her ninth), A Good Life, is a tour de force. She possesses an otherworldly voice, writes great material (herself, and together with co-writers David Beldock and Dave Blackburn), has a studio crew that is top-shelf all the way, and - probably because of her experience of having so many previous releases - seems to know exactly what her strengths are.
Watson wrote five of the 12 songs, co-wrote six others, and the production by her and Blackburn is almost breathtaking. It flawlessly captures her remarkable ability to handle moments of light folk with dancing melodies and soaring harmonies, then to smoothly gear down to handle an interesting jazz vibe, only switch from her angel's breath persona on yet another tune to nail a pop or country ballad. Comparisons of her vocal instrument to Joan Baez, Judy Collins, or early Joni Mitchell are fine but might short Watson's unique ability to display not just amazing vocal range, but style range as well, on her own terms.
The title song (and others here) benefits greatly from a sharp arrangement, featuring airy layers of guitars and backing vocals as Watson sings about her experiences, including as a singer: "It's small time, I don't mind... Playing for fool's gold, I've been told." Her soothing soprano combines with some perfectly executed grand piano by Ed Kornhauser to lift the lullaby "Wake Up Little Mama." Watson sings a folk tune about a past relationship, "Since I've Felt Like This," and it is a disc highlight. There is tangible yearning as she wonders about the warmth of a kiss from long ago, driven home by a three-part harmony chorus.
"Baby, I Love You" is a soft country-pop shuffle that shows Watson completely at home outside the folk box, and the catchiness and arrangement of the song burns itself into the listener's head. Even more eclectic is her turn on "My Old Friend," a wonderful jazz ballad that she takes compete charge of, another standout track. The detour from folk music includes "Crooked Girl," which has a minor chord/Latin/funk bloodlines as it drums up an atmospheric vibe that gives Watson a chance to stretch her persona, "I've been down all over the world / Nobody wants a crooked girl."
The most beautiful track here is "Blue Scarf." Finger-picked guitars are the framework, as Watson and what sounds like a choir of angels soar, singing about "Sapphire skies and fields of green." There are two folk songs late in the program that are given almost stripped-down, old-school arrangements - and they are both great tracks worth a mention: "Most of All" and "In the Daylight." Both will trigger memories of early Mitchell album fare and non-traditional tracks by Collins. If they don't, "Gone just Like a Train" will, with country-ballad themes covered by both icons, giving Watson's A Good Life a closer that bids a wistful farewell after a very satisfying musical journey.
On her sixth album, folk music master Peggy Watson delivers a masterpiece. With acoustic guitars, bass, and a little percussion, Watson and her all-star band create an atmosphere of warmth and space lesser folk bands can only dream of. And in her lyrics, Watson takes the time to let truths reveal themselves.
It would be easy to compare her voice to other folk icons like Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, but no one can sing like Peggy Watson. Unabashedly timeless, she has found the vein of gold in her own instrument, and we all fall back dazzled.
Again and again Watson finds a way, with a turn of phrase or a melody, to encapsulate and convey the mysterious center of things where categories and definitions slip away. In the gentle front-porch sway of the album opener, "The Moon is Full Tonight," she blurs the juxtapositions between banality, depression, and celestial transcendence so that you don't know where the heartache ends and the ecstasy begins
Another standout in a string of gems is "This is Love," a reverent prayer to an old love, which is really a song about surrendering to truths you can't change. Watson effortlessly synthesizes the contradictions of loss and grace, longing and acceptance in a ballad of luminous beauty, which is what elevates this album far beyond "folk music" to the status of masterpiece. Only great art transcends even its own forms and carries us over the boundaries of our preconceptions. In the Company of Birds soars.
The album closes with a shimmering, majestic, pastoral meditation: "In the Company of Birds." In these MTV times where sexuality in music is commonly delivered in airbrushed silicone containers, this song illustrates the staggering power of real feminine sexuality. Here is a woman opening herself to a lover in a way so strong, so real, so honest, so beautiful that it burrows all the way down into the deepest needs a man ever has: to be forgiven, to be accepted, even celebrated just as he is. Listen to this song, let it shake you down to the core, and tell me this isn't the sexiest song you've ever heard.
A Thousand Wishes shows Peggy Watson is more than just a brilliant songwriter and great vocalist, she’s a seasoned pro. This highly personal acoustic folk album reflects her unique view of the world. The stories are true, the places are real and the emotion is overflowing. Her poetic lyrics are visual enough to bring her words to life.
The opening track, "Dance Like That," a tale of a woman dancing without reservation shows a willingness to take risks in life without holding back and a struggle to be more than an observer. This song is complimented by backing vocals from Robin Adler and intricate musicianship from local favorite, John Katchur.
Other standout tracks include the heart wrenching, "Are You Still Listening" and the down-to-earth "Rescue Me."
"Sand Dollar Beach" is luminous with percussion from Jeff Berkley, and addresses the theme of searching for something only to find the unexpected instead. Watson comes off as a '90s Joni Mitchell and takes her influence from a wide genre of music including Latin, classical, jazz and rock 'n' roll. She holds many San Diego artists in high-esteem, crediting them as major sources of inspiration to her music - A Thousand Wishes features Barnaby Finch (piano), Dave Curtis (bass), Rob Whitlock (B3, Wurlitzer), Fred Benedetti (guitar), Linda Vickerman and Chris Hassett (vocals). Hats off to producer, engineer and musician, Dave Blackburn for an outstanding production.
"...Peggy Watson brings rare grace, skill and versatility to her work. Blessed with a luminous soprano, her singing is equally enchanting whether she's performing folk, pop, jazz, country or torch ballads."
"Peggy Watson's music is filled with simple pleasures and reflects years of hard work, empathetic observation and an easy familiarity with the tough compromises people make every day."
"Watson also performs with poise and panache on such blues, jazz and Tin Pan Alley standards as "A Sunday Kind of Love," "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance With You" and the gently swinging "My Baby Just Cares for Me." Equally impressive is her singing on "Silent Movie Love" a torch ballad by former North County singer-songwriter Joy Eden Harrison. In each instance, Watson impresses with her deft touch in idioms barely hinted at on her previous, folk-music-oriented albums." - George Varga - San Diego Union Tribune
"Peggy Watson is a rare musician...a singer-songwriter who has the ability to be a headliner on the national folk circuit, including a gift for melody and a bel canto voice."
Beldock & Watson
Written by Mike Alvarez
David Beldock and Peggy Watson have recorded a charming CD of acoustic tunes that run the gamut from jazz and blues to folk. They have chosen a simple, straightforward approach to production and arrangement that really showcases their songwriting. Instrumentation is sparse, sometimes just voices and acoustic guitar as on the opening song "Feel the Wind." At other times they spice up the proceedings with light percussion and acoustic bass, courtesy of Jeff Berkley and Pete Harrison, respectively. A good demonstration of this is the Watson-penned and sung "Running Away." The additional players serve to create a more energetic sound, but they leave plenty of space for the song to breathe. "Running Away" can still be played by an acoustic duo without losing any of its essence.
Beldock is a multi-instrumentalist, playing guitars, banjtar, electric bass, and keyboards. Watson plays guitar in addition to singing. Both of them have pleasing voices that sound good individually as well as when blended in harmonies. They take a roughly equal share of lead vocal duties, which doesn't necessarily correspond to the person getting the songwriting credit. "Jesus on the Radio" is a gentle ballad by Beldock, but it is Watson's sweet voice that sings the melody while his warm baritone takes a supporting role. The jazzy "Second Chance" is his opportunity to shine as he croons a plea for forgiveness over a rhythm track of strummed guitar chords and tasteful keyboard soloing.
They show a real feel for acoustic blues on "Leave Her Baby Behind" and "Downtown by the River," breathing freshness into a tried and true genre. The album takes a humorous turn with the whimsically upbeat "Clone," which superimposes a sci-fi theme over an old time feel. Sure, it's played strictly for laughs, but it's also a neat song. Then things turn a little wistful with "Tom's Song," a colorful tune that is a Rockwell-like reminiscence of days gone by sparked by an old friend's postcard. The album ends with "Everything You Do," a return to the blues, written and sung by Watson. It's got a great last-call, smoky mood that makes for a perfect closer.
The overall feel is relaxed and casual, which belies the obvious craftsmanship that went into the compositions and arrangements. Their lyrics depict a wide spectrum of human experiences that just about anybody can relate to. Instrumental performances are tasteful and flawlessly executed, never getting in the way of the songs. There is a truly natural sound to this recording. You can tell it was made in a great room! The songs themselves are comprised of well-chosen chords with vocal melodies that sit perfectly on top of them. One gets the sense that this music was created by seasoned artists who have perfected the craft of saying a lot without talking too much.