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Willie Watson at Fletcher Opera Theater




FLETCHER OPERA THEATER, RALEIGH—When Old Crow Medicine Show co-founder Willie Watson embarked on his solo career, he struggled to find the material he wanted to sing. It wasn't so much that he couldn't write songs as much as it was that the material he did pen didn't compare to his old-timey favorites.

So he stole a page from country music, surrendering the prestige of authorship so that he might sing the best tunes he could find. The 10 songs of his May debut, Folk Singer, Vol. 1, are as unfussy and direct as the title. He picks traditional blues and country songs, from the classic "Midnight Special" to Utah Phillips' "Rock Salt and Nails."

"It's just doing what I really like to do, singing these songs that I really like to sing," says Watson. "They're just better songs than I can write myself."

These austere tunes feature just Watson, his guitar and an ache that obeys no clock. Watson's high lonesome tenor wavers like an old AM radio signal—broadcasting from another age, cutting in and out.

"They're from a time when songwriting had more mystery even talking about the simplest things," he says. "There's mystique around it and depth that I don't hear today."

Plenty of music fans must share his feelings: Folk Singer cracked Billboard's independent album charts. Crowds have been strong. Reviews are positive. It's a surprising shift for Watson, who had reconciled himself to a lower profile if it meant playing the simple music he wanted to make.

"I really didn't expect people to react as they have," he says. "It took a while to figure it out, but I couldn't be happier with where I'm at. You can tell that people think it is unique in a way, and I'll take that any day." With Liz Longley. 8 p.m., $22$29, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, 919-664-8302, pinecone.org.

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