While Aaron Watson appropriately named his 2015 album The Underdog, Watson’s ironically gotten more chances to be an underdog in the past two years than ever before in his career. “Outta Style” managed to become his first top 10 hit on the Billboard charts, and the release of his next album, Vaquero was quite successful too.
For Watson, live albums almost feel like a time capsule for him, with his first two marking his emergence and subsequent rise respectively. Live at the World’s Biggest Rodeo Show should therefore feel like Watson’s triumphant battle call, and yet it’s more than that. The release of this album marks the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey’s landfall on the south Texas coast (Aug. 25, 2017). $1.41 from each album sold goes to benefit the Rebuild Texas Fund, an organization fighting to recover the $125 billion in damage that impacted 13 million people in 41 Texas counties.
Yet aside from the final, fitting track, Live at the World’s Biggest Rodeo Show offers comfort in the best way possible – through music and good times. In fact, the first three songs in the set list provide enormous amounts of energy, with the upbeat “These Old Boots Have Roots” leading the way for fast-charged tracks “Freight Train” and “Real Good Time” which show Aaron firing those lines at incredible paces. It’s impossible not to dance or do something once “Real Good Time” kicks into gear for its hillbilly jam session.
Really, this live album counters Watson’s critics who have derided him for his thinner lyrical content over the years. So many of these songs fit well in a live setting where the music can just be fun instead of analyzed. That doesn’t mean this critic loves every track though. While I’m not fond of tracks such as “That’s Why God Loves Cowboys” or “Outta Style,” it’s hard to say Watson didn’t pick tracks that would resonate with his core audience.
Besides, Watson provides a nice healthy balance anyway with the touching “Bluebonnets” as well as “July In Cheyenne” dedicated to the late professional bull rider, Lane Frost. “Fence Post” is also a song that just sounds even sweeter with its corporate takedown more than it did three years ago now that Watson has a top 10 under his belt.
Perhaps what’s most surprising is that all of the material here comes from Watson’s past three studio albums, with not a single other song making its way into the fold beyond the new song, “Higher Ground.” That means well-known cuts “Reckless” and “Barbed Wire Halo” are noticeably absent from the project.
The final bonus song, “Higher Ground” is also another fitting, touching moment for Watson. The sentiment to stay strong is nothing new, but it’s wrapped in pretty nice imagery that’s only accentuated by Watson’s intimate, serious delivery.
Overall, Live at the World’s Biggest Rodeo Show will no doubt appeal to traditional Watson fans. Considering all of the material here stems from his past three albums, fans simply looking for a good entry point into his music will also find this to be an enjoyable project. While it would have been nice to hear at least one throwback to Watson’s earlier material, Live at the World’s Biggest Rodeo Show still offers a solidly fun time that makes it worth the listen.
Album highlights: “These Old Boots Have Roots,” “Freight Train,” “Real Good Time,” “Bluebonnets (Julia’s Song),” “Fence Post,” “July In Cheyenne (Song For Lane’s Momma)”