Labeling Florida singer-songwriter Cheryl Watson’s debut a bluegrass release is open to debate. Given the ever-expanding state of contemporary bluegrass, you could make an argument for including it, and certainly four tracks do feature the banjo. That said, her 13-song CD (12 originals) is too diverse to be labeled one way or the other, except by that broad heading Americana. More than anything, she reminds me of Nancy Griffith, though with a bluesier, deeper voice. “Here Comes My Only Heartache,” a song in which she remembers an early-but-failed true love, has Griffith all over it, particularly the “Love At The Five And Dime”-like melody.
Like Griffith, she has a great ear for melody, ideas, and for turn-of-phrase. In the aforementioned “Here Comes…,” she ponders being married but only being able to give half her love to her husband. “Hurricane Of Trouble” finds her equating an old love to the title, while in “What I Stand To Lose” she seems to be asking, “What is the cost of love?” Forgotten old men. A woman believing she’ll leave millwork but who never does. Another woman leaving behind a husband with a drinking problem. Watson illuminates them all with heartfelt lyrics and emotional performances, and cloaks them in a wide variety of styles. Some swing in a bluesy mode, such as “I’ll Learn To Live With The Blues.” Others have a slight Spanish tinge (“The Old Man Next Door”) or a folk feel (“All The Things I Used To Feel”) or a slow, watery, arpeggiated guitar setting (several). She also includes two instrumentals: “Beaumont Rag” on which she takes a light, chime-like mandolin solo punctuated by a bluesy chorded passage in the stop-time section and “When In Drought Blues” a modal, moody duet with guitarist Gabe Valla. All in all, an impressive debut. (The Music Tree, 450-106 SR 13, #109, St. Johns, FL 32259, www.musicgrowshere.com.) BW