The new eight song album Watershed from Maryland’s David Arn may not seem or sound like much on initial inspection. Even a single listen, however, reveals that Arn’s composing talents are riding a high unlike even the high standard he reached and maintained on preceding releases such as Traveler Tales, Watershed’s predecessor. It’s a stripped down and straight ahead affair, without a doubt, reliant on little else but sparse band arrangements and Arn’s voice, acoustic guitar, and lyrics to win the day. It’s plenty.
The opener “Blood and Bone” makes that clear. It also opens the door to Arn’s lyrical skill on this particular album as the lines are tightly packed with imagery that never feels or sounds tacked on or meaningless. Arn will never spell things out for listeners and leaves much unsaid, but this isn’t a flaw. Instead, a move such as this opens up the song to multiple interpretations rather than tethering it to one possible outcome. There’s plenty of poetry, as well, present in the song for anyone who places a premium on such things. Many seeking Arn’s music out will be that kind of listener.
They will find a lot to love and admire on this album. “Watershed”, the album’s title track, reveals Arn’s impressive talent for invoking voice in his work. The album’s characterization are sharp, never belabored, and will invariably strike chords for many listeners. His vocal for the title song is among the best on an album bursting with excellent performances. “The Only Truth I Know” is one of the album’s pinnacles for me because of how deep the lyric plumbs into the songwriter’s psyche. He’s masterful at saying more than we actually hear from his words; it’s often what is left out that propels our imagination as listeners and Arn understands that as a writer.
“Thought by Now” is another unassuming but ultimately impactful track. It’s a full band arrangement here and the dry yet authoritative snap of the percussion helps set a definite tone from the outset. The electric guitar laced throughout the song doesn’t have an assertive sound but does an excellent job of punctuating the vocal. “Chain” is one of the album’s later songs that would translate well from its acoustic slant here into a full-fledged band number. He’s made the right decision, however, to strip the track down to its essential as it forces listeners to pay close attention to some of the album’s finest lyrics.
Watershed concludes with “Remember the Ring”. It’s light on its feet for a closer, no uber heavy statement songs from Arn as he’s readying to leave the stage, and the lyrical acumen doesn’t slip into sentimentality despite the song’s subject matter. Anyone who values thoughtful songwriting will get their ticket punched quite nicely by David Arn’s Watershed and it is clear that he’s far from finished. There will be more to come. Watershed, however, is as lovely and as thoughtful of a release as I’ve yet to hear in 2022 and holds up under repeated listens.