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Local musician creates album inspired by New Hampshire

Last modified: 12/21/2012 9:27:26 AM
Anybody can say he loves New Hampshire. It takes a true devotee to write not just a song, but an entire CD full of songs extolling the virtues and telling the stories of the Granite State.

Such is the adoration of Don Watson, a longtime musician, conservationist, educator and history buff, who has just released the album Welcome Home New Hampshire. One thing Watson is not is a New Hampshire native (gasp!), but no place has ever felt more like home to him than our little state.

“I’ve lived in a lot of places, and I’ve lived in some beautiful places, but none of them felt like home,” said Watson, who has lived in Gilford for the past 12 years. “What is it about a place that makes it feel for a person like they belong? For me it’s something to do with the way I connect to the land. I also like the attitudes of the people, the politics, the personalities. It’s all of that together.”

Watson’s album, which was produced and performed entirely by New Hampshire artists, reflects that multi-faceted affection. The songs, which range in style from bluegrass to folk to rock, include snippets of history, explorations of special places and even an ode to the state fruit: the pumpkin.

The title track is a panoramic, wish-you-were-here postcard inset with sensory details like lilacs and maple syrup. “Let the forests wrap around you like the arms of your family,” it enthuses.

In contrast to this sugar-sweet hymn is the rock ballad “Hannah Dustin,” which tells the story of one of our state’s most celebrated and controversial heroines. Watson was fascinated by the gory legend and wanted to explore it in a poetic way. He doesn’t pretend to present a balanced account of the tale, choosing instead to try to get inside of the head of Dustin,

who watched her newborn baby get killed by American Indians and then was forced to march 25 miles a day in the mud and snow before attacking her captors in the night and fleeing home with 10 scalps in a canoe down the Merrimack. “I just wanted to understand what that experience was like for her,” Watson said. “It’s written from her perspective.”

Watson, who worked with Candia poet and historian Steve Redic to write the lyrics, consulted several New Hampshire history books, including Fritz Weatherbee’s popular collections of New Hampshire stories. One of his favorite songs tells a little-known love story that took place in Portsmouth back when New Hampshire was still a colony under the king’s rule. New Hampshire’s governor at the time, Benning Wentworth, was sorely grieving the loss of his wife and sons to illness when he spotted a young woman on the streets and was instantly infatuated.

“He proposed to her on the spot,” Watson said.

Molly, however, was engaged to another man. The governor was so enraged by this news that he arranged to have Molly’s fiance pressed into service in the dreaded Royal Navy. “When they needed more people to work on the ship, they would go out and literally grab men, put them in shackles and throw them on the ship,” Watson said. For the seven years that Molly’s true love was at sea, the wily governor continued to proposition her, and she continued to turn him down. “And when he got off the ship, Molly was waiting for him,” Watson said.

A different kind of love story wraps up the album. “Autumn’s Song” is a soulful ode to New Hampshire in what many consider its loveliest garb.

Watson, who first fell in love with New Hampshire during childhood camping trips in the White Mountains, isn’t exactly sure how the album got its start. “I had all these melodies for songs, but I didn’t have anything that I wanted to write about,” he said. “But I like to write, and I enjoy the process of songwriting. New Hampshire has so many fantastic stories in its history. At some point I decided, ‘I’m going to put them together and do this album and see if the people of New Hampshire like it.’ ”

Watson, who has a previous album called Back East (a term you don’t hear a lot when you live here, he points out with a chuckle), sings lead vocals and plays acoustic guitars on the CD. It’s arranged and produced by Mike Moran, who also performed on lead guitars and drums. Amy Lesieur of Concord sings female vocals. Other musicians featured on the CD include Chris Mega of the Lakes Region Orchestra, Tom Yoder, Paul Luff and Michael Morin. The artwork, photography and graphic design were also done by New Hampshire artists.

Watson, who works for the state Department of Environmental Services and is an active conservationist and avid outdoorsman, is now trying to get Welcome Home New Hampshire in front of appropriate audiences. He has done several performances at historical societies, libraries and museums and is working on booking additional events.

“I think the music has value on different levels,” Watson said. “For a person who’s interested in history, I think the stories are very interesting, and I think the music is going to reinforce that story, maybe give it a deeper meaning. For someone else, I’m hoping that the music is a way to spark an interest in learning about all this fascinating history that we have in New Hampshire.”

Watson is particularly interested in getting kids to connect with his music. “As an educator with an interest in preserving our natural and cultural history, I think a sense of place is very important,” he said.

But for all its New Hampshire-bilia, Watson hopes the CD is also appealing for its artistry. “I hope people enjoy the music on its own merit,” he said. “I really hope the songs can stand on their own.”

(To hear songs from “Welcome Home New Hampshire” or order a CD, visit donwatsonmusic.com.)


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