I posted this review a short while ago on the Sputnik Music website:
I'll tell you what I know about Christopher Watkins, aka Preacher Boy. My bio information is a little limited, because he's a true "indie" artist -- there's not a ton of background material available about him. He works in a genre that some refer to as "alternative blues", although I tend to think of it as "dark rural". He's a little bit blues, a little bit country, with a style that matches gruff vocals and Delta slide guitar with often-gritty subject matter. His is a world not so much of Louisiana swamps as it is one of dark back roads and gritty truck stops. However, to the best of my knowledge, he's mostly lived in urban centers such as Brooklyn, Chicago, and now, Santa Cruz, CA. Clearly, he's a man of contradictions.
I first became aware of him at a live show on Long Island, NY, shortly after the release of his excellent 2004 LP, Demanding to Be Next. His "demand" was not met -- in spite of the album's obvious high quality, it got lost in the shuffle of a million other indie albums, causing not a ripple on the ocean that is commercial music. Legend has it that at that point Watkins, feeling that he had done the best work of his career and it still wasn't enough to get him noticed, moved out of the New York area and swore off of music for good.
For a man like Preacher Boy, though, music is a thing of the soul. You just can't get rid of it like you would an old pair of shoes. And so suddenly, twelve years later, in 2016, the songs in the Preacher Boy's heart came bursting out of him like an alien Xenomorph busting out of John Hurt's chest with a pair of new releases, Country Blues and The National Blues. This was followed by a third release in the waning days of that December, entitled Estate Bottled Blues.
Estate Bottled Blues is apparently a "lost album", written and recorded somewhere between The Devil's Buttermilk in 2000 and Demanding to Be Next in 2004, but never released until 2016. There are 16 tracks here in all, and while I'm normally not a fan of albums with more than 12 or 13 songs, the quality of the LP is high throughout. Some of the numbers that jumped out at me included "Armageddon Days," a slowish track that makes effective use of harmonica, strummed guitar, piano, and a weird-ass off-key fiddle that comes in at the end of the choruses with the kick of a mule; "Saltpeter", which is apparently about a shooting that Watkins witnessed on the streets of Chicago; and "You Ain't That Bad Off", an angry song about a fellow musician who successfully garnered some critical acclaim by spinning stories about a hard (and wildly exaggerated) personal history.
The album abounds with musical tales of desperation and loneliness that would do a Springsteen or a Neil Young proud, painted poignantly with ominous guitars and raw vocals. The man knows how to write a song, and how to deliver it with gut-punch impact.
Earlier this year, Preacher Boy released yet another LP of old (and some new) material called Black Market Crow. I look forward to that one, but in the meantime, I recommend Estate Bottled Blueshighly. It's literal proof that you might be able to keep a good man down after all, but you can't stop him from singing about it. And he can't even stop himself.
Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars