Texas storyteller and musician Aaron Watson is blessed with the gift of gab that attracts congregations of loyal fans every time he speaks.
Listening to him talk over the phone during our CMT.com interview, you might think he’s an ordained minister. Ask him one question about the idea behind his latest album Vaquero, and he’ll go on a passionate nine-minute sermon chronicling his two-year journey following the No. 1 success of his previous project, The Underdog.
In February 2015, the Texas musician and father of four made history by becoming the first solo male artist to debut at No. 1 on Billboard’s country albums chart with a self-released and independently-distributed album.
“I’ve always tried to stay focused on trusting my heart on the things that have gotten me this far like my faith and my family,” he said. “And when the last album came out, I had a lot of people within the mainstream music community that are friends and allies of mine who said, ’Hey, if you’re ever going to break out of this mold of being a Texas regional artist, you’ve got to get away from the Texas thing.’ And I was kind of like, ’Man, I don’t agree with you. At all.’
“Why would we change now? My thought process on that is this: It doesn’t really matter where you’re from. Wherever you’re from, you should be proud of who you are. It’s not like I’m going around and swiping people in the face with a Texas flag. It’s home. It’s where I raise my babies. It’s where I met my wife. I mean, it’s where my grandparents are buried. I mean, it’s no different than if you’re from Tennessee.”
Getting its title from the Spanish word for cowboy, Vaquero is 16 tracks of straight-up cowboy country that’s steeped in faith, family and tradition. The collection opens with “Texas Lullaby,” the life story of soldier whose dying wish is to be buried beneath the big blue skies of the Lone Star State. Watson offers solid life lessons in the title track and “The Arrow,” and he celebrates small town values in “Big Love in a Small Town.” The album also offers seven love songs the whole family can sing along to. The one that makes his wife Kimberly blush is his passionate ode of lovemaking, “Run Wild Horses.”
“I wanted to write her just a sexy song that’s like Charlie Rich’s ’Behind Closed Doors,'” he said. “I played it for her and she was like, ’Oh, my goodness, that’s just kind of graphic.’ I was like, ’It’s going on the record, and everybody’s going to know I’m talking about you.’
“Besides her being gorgeous, that’s the first thing I remember thinking, ’Wow, what a lady.’ She’s so appropriate. She’s kind, loving and I don’t know anybody who doesn’t love her. I always tell people fans like me because they love her.”
The current single “Outta Style” and “Be My Girl” each celebrate the staying power of love.
“I love it when these songs become part of someone else’s life,” he said. “One of the greatest things that’s better than any kind of award is when you have a couple say, ’This is our song,’ or if you have somebody tell you they used your song at their wedding. Writing that song will mean something to people for the rest of their lives, those are the greatest compliments you can give a songwriter.”
Watson describes the songs on the new album as some of his strongest material to date. “They Don’t Make ’Em Like They Used To” starts off recalling a country drive with his grandfather and then cleverly transitions into a call to action challenging every listener to make the world a better place for future generations to come.
“By the end of the song, I’m kind of preaching,” he said. “You gotta learn to live, learn to forgive, learn to live together and make the world a better place. And maybe some day, somebody will look back on today and look back on us and say, ’They don’t make ’em like they used to.'”
Companion pieces “Mariano’s Dream” and “Clear Isabel” kick off the second half the album. This first is a plaintive instrumental laden with dreamy solos from an acoustic guitar. In “Clear Isabel,” the listener learns that Mariano is Isabel’s father who lost his only son in a violent shooting involving a Mexican drug cartel. Hoping of a better life for his daughter, Mariano packed Isabel’s belongings and sends her across the border to pursue a free life in America.
“I’m usually not that kind of writer,” he admitted. “There’s always such big controversy over things going on along the border. Everybody’s talking about building a wall, and I just wrote this song from a perspective of how this affects people. This affects human beings. It comes from a point of view of love. So, regardless of your stance, you really can’t disagree with it.”
At the time of our conversation, he had just played a private Nashville showcase for iHeartRadio programmers from around the country where he quoted Babe Ruth to describe his brand of country music.
“He said, ’You can’t beat a person who won’t give up,’ and that’s us,” he said. “We just focus on working hard and riding that horse named Hustle. I’m up and coming after 17 years, 13 albums and 2,000-plus shows later. I charted an album No. 1 on Billboard’s country albums chart and we have an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. That is not too bad for an up-and-coming guy. We are just so thankful and blessed.”
Vaquero debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s country albums chart this week. His 2017 tour continues Thursday (March 9) with a show at New York City’s Marlin Room at Webster Hall.