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Aaron Watson turns the music industry on its head

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Musician Aaron Watson performs onstage during 2016 Stagecoach California's Country Music Festival at Empire Polo Club on April 30, 2016 in Indio, California. Musician Aaron Watson performs onstage during 2016 Stagecoach California's Country Music Festival at Empire Polo Club on April 30, 2016 in Indio, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Stagecoach)

Indie country artist’s latest number one album is “Vaquero”

In 2015, Amarillo, Texas-native Aaron Watson became the only male solo artist since the 1991 advent of the Nielsen Music era (the leading sales-tracking firm) to land a Billboard number one country album without record label-assistance or major radio airplay.

The appropriately-titled “The Underdog” was the 10thstudio album for the renegade country artist, who has effectively turned the industry’s system on its head by issuing a number one follow-up album this year. 

“Vaquero,” released on Feb. 24, looks poised to outsell its predecessor. Though it debuted at #2 on the Billboard country chart in the days following its release, Watson’s newest studio release was #1 in sales while simultaneously retaining the top-selling spot on iTunes’ country chart and #2 for all music genres for the first two weeks of this month.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Aaron Watson’s achievement is that he had approached and had been turned down by every major record label in America. Without the perks of major-label tour support and record distribution, an independent artist has bettered the majors after they had told him that he was “too country” for country music.

The rumblings of a country revolution are being felt by the Nashville establishment and Watson is the most visible in a growing group of country music artists conducting business on their own terms and reaping all the benefits.

“Mainstream music has never embraced me,” Watson told Saving Country Music in an interview. “It’s been a discouraging relationship, if you could even call it a relationship.”

The title “Vaquero” refers to a Spanish traditional horse-mounted livestock herder, the precursor of the old-west American cowboy. The classic country and western term “buckaroo” is an English variation on the word, describing a cowboy of the Great Basin and California and Texas regions of America. 

One listen to Watson’s album is all you need to realize why it is connecting with so many fans. The guy really is a great country artist, with songs steeped in traditional-country (“Texas Lullabye,” “These Old Boots Have Roots,” “They Don’t Make ‘em Like They Used To”) in an era where homogenized country-pop dominates the field. Watson is fully deserving of what little hype he has received to date.

With writing or co-writing credits for all 16 songs on “Vaquero,” Watson has cemented his reputation as a triple threat – writer, musician and performer.

Demonstrating a remarkable flair for crafting a record of varying style, Watson mixes it up on “Vaquero,” an album charged with melodic storytelling and love of family and country.

The title song echoes country classics like “El Paso” by Marty Robbins, without coming off like a cloying facsimile. “One Two-Step at a Time” is adorned with vintage doo-wop harmony before it evolves into one of the album’s barn-burners. 

One concession to the contemporary country sound on the album is the rollicking “Outta Style,” released late last year as the album’s leadoff single. With a concise hook, chiming guitars and its message that anything of value (in Watson’s case, his relationship with his wife) will never fade away, the song, recorded late in the album’s sessions, was an obvious hit and a perfect way to introduce “Vaquero” to the world. 

Watson says he does most of his songwriting early in the morning, before he takes his children to school, and came up with roughly 80 new songs for the album. The best were determined by Watson and his co-producer, Marshall Altman.

Telling Billboard that he has received advice from every corner on how to manage his career, Watson says “We’re just going to stay true to our brand, work hard, and ride a horse called Hustle.”

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