Darren Watson – Getting Sober for the End of the World | Album Review

Darren Watson – Getting Sober for the End of the World



CD: 9 Songs, 36 Minutes

Styles: Ensemble Blues, Acoustic Blues, “Traditional Contemporary” Blues

2020 has been quite a year, to put it mildly. The timing of celebrated New Zealand songster Darren Watson’s new album could not have been worse – or better. It’s called Getting Sober for the End of the World. The CD cover art depicts a blurred Mr. Watson pushing a nearly-empty bottle of Chivas Regal scotch aside while savoring his last tumbler. It’s a rite of passage, as these tumultuous past months have been. Although we’ve lived it up for the past decade, it’s time to reassess our choices and redeem ourselves to “our fellow human beings.” That’s Darren’s sage advice, whether on the title track or pointed political satires like “Self-Made Man” and “One Evil Man.”

The guilty-pleasure ditty “Alison Jane” and a cover of Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped the Devil)” balance out the moral messaging and remind us that after all, this is a blues album. What fantastic blues it is! From start to finish, it reverberates with “traditional contemporary” sound. No techno-tricks; Darren keeps it real while also keeping it on the cutting edge of current events.

This release is the long-awaited successor to 2018’s critically-acclaimed Too Many Millionaires. It’s Watson’s most ambitious project yet, being entirely self-produced and recorded. He says, “I was stoked with Millionaires and how it was received, but I reckon Getting Sober is [a] big step up. I literally poured blood, sweat and tears into every part – the lyrics, the arrangements, and the recording and mixing. Then there’s the band’s playing! Everyone played their asses off. We captured some really dynamic performances. This one breathes, it really does.”

Performing alongside Darren (guitar, vocals, percussion, bass guitar, organ) are Delia Shanly on drums and percussion, Steve Moodie on double bass, Terry Casey on harmonica, Dayle Jellyman on piano, Craig Denham on accordion, Rick Holmstrom on electric guitar for “Alison Jane,” and the Cold City Horns: Jacob Wynne on trumpet and Nolan Plunkett on trombone.

It’s hard to pinpoint the best song on the album when they’re all super, but the one that soars the highest is track number five, a haunting ballad by the name of “Ernie Abbott.” According to the official website of the New Zealand police, “On Tuesday, 27 March, 1984, Wellington Trades Hall caretaker Ernie Abbott was locking up for the day. At 5:19 PM, he picked up a suitcase which had been left unattended for several hours, intending to secure it.

“The movement triggered a bomb, and Ernie was killed almost instantly. He was the sole victim of the attack and despite numerous investigations, police have always struggled to identify a motive for the bombing. No one has been brought to justice for Ernie Abbott’s murder.”

Darren Watson mourns the loss of “this peaceful man,” hinting at a cover-up when he mentions “the many bowing down to the few.” Then he points the finger at everyone and no one: “Somebody got to know who put Ernie Abbott’s soul in God’s hands.” Even Stephen King couldn’t come up with a more spine-chilling way to describe murder.

Getting Sober for the End of the World is far from a downer. It’s an uplifting, exhorting, beautiful, brilliant CD from one of New Zealand’s most renowned musicians. Whether you’re chill and mellow or freaking out like most of us, it’s the tonic you need to bolster your spirits.

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