Texas-based Aaron Watson is one of the best kept secrets of Texas country music, less Red Dirt and more what used to be mainstream country. His voice has a cracked warmth and character, and he is a talented songwriter to boot, writing most of the songs without outside assistance. Although I don’t feel the material here quite matches up to the best of his songs from previous efforts, it is generally very good. This album, Aaron’s tenth overall, was recorded mainly in Austin. I can’t see any producer credits, so assume Aaron filled that role himself.
The title track (written by Aaron with Mark Sissel) is just a minute-long introduction setting the scene and bringing in the themes of a life making music with a cowboy twist, all for love of music – “I don’t do it for the money, I can’t blame the fame”. This is the motif of the record. It segues straight into ‘The Road’, written by Elliot Park, a midtempo fiddle led warning not to mistake the route for the destination, voiced by a personification of the metaphorical road itself:
I’m a million miles before you
I’m a million miles behind
I’ll take you straight and narrow
I’ll ramble and I’ll wind
So curse my broken brimstone or kiss my bricks of gold
I’m not the reason
I’m just the road
The awkward phrase “knees and hands” (inserted thus to allow for a rhyme) jars a little, but this is a memorable song based on an arresting image.
The excellent closing track ‘After The Rodeo’ (the highlight of the album), written by Don Rollins and new Capitol/EMI artist Troy Olsen, tells the story of an over-the-hill cowboy contemplating retirement:
Does a shooting star miss the sky when it hits the ground?
And how long can a woman go on lovin’ you if you’re not around?
The years are flying faster now
So tell me how eight seconds feels so slow
And I wonder where old cowboys go after the rodeo
It is the road, though, that forms the principal focus. ‘The Things You’ll Do’ opens as an ebullient up-tempo look at life as at touring musician on the road, rough bars and bar fights, sleeping in vans and not getting paid are quenching his love for making music. The second verse translates the message to sacrifices made for love of a woman.
The steel-laced ‘High Price Of Fame’ is an affectionate story song about high-profile relationships and the toll it takes on the woman, starting with Hank and Audrey Williams, Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, then the oft-used Johnny Cash and June Carter, and finally reflecting on the strains his own career puts on his marriage:
All those highways and heartaches
All the mistakes a man makes
Where’s the glitter and gold as the shadows unfold?
Everyone knows his name
But she pays a high price of fame
This is a charming song, although Aaron’s phrasing places an odd emphasis on the word “mistakes”.
I also really like the tenderly sung ballad ‘Best For Last’, thanking God for creating the girl he loves (changing in the last verse to their baby) – unoriginal but sweet and heartfelt. The up-tempo and virtually tuneless ‘Fast Cars, Slow Kisses’ has interesting verses tackling the subject of online dating, but the chorus is both cliche’d and boring; this couple does not have anything unique or interesting about them as individuals. (And I hope the slow kisses are not imagined in the fast car, or (true love or not) they won’t be enjoying them for long.)
‘Zero To Sixty’, the only co-write, sees Aaron working with Drew Womack (ex-Sons of the Desert), and is a commercial-sounding story song with an older man proffering some Life Advice about the way time flies. This theme has become something of a cliche, but it’s better executed than ‘Fast Cars, Slow Kisses’. Similarly, ‘Bless Her Crazy Heart’, a grateful acknowledgement of his wife’s love, suggesting she must be insane to love him despite all his flaws, is likeable if not groundbreaking.
I enjoyed the engaging pacy swipe at ‘Hollywood’ lifestyles, the media’s celebrity obsessions and (unnamed but obvious) Paris Hilton:
Who really cares if you drive a Maserati?
Who gives a flip about the fancy clothes you wear?
Cause all the money in your dog eat dog kinda world
Couldn’t buy you a lick of happiness
No, Hollywood wouldn’t know love if love walked up and gave Hollywood a kiss
‘Sweetheart Of the Rodeo’ is an amusing portrait of an attractive woman who takes absolutely no nonsense from anyone:
She’s a high staking heartbreaking absolutely breathtaking
Make no mistaking she’s mighty hard to hold
Many a cowboy’s tried
Many a cowboy’s dang near died
She’s no sweetheart of the rodeo
Boys you been warned so now you know
So straighten up and act your age
Or you’ll be looking down the barrel of her daddy’s 12 gauge
The second single is an effective cover of rocker Tom Petty’s well-written ‘Walls’ which has a strong beat but fits in nicely with the other material. An upbeat version of Larry Gatlin’s country hit ‘Houston (Means I’m One Day Closer To You)’ (a #1 in 1983) and Texas singer-songwriter Bruce Robison’s ‘Drivin’ All Night Long’ continue the road theme, with the protagonist making his way back home in both cases. ‘Conflict’ is a quiet AC-leaning song written by David Dunn with a slightly oblique lyric about internal debates. It is very well sung but feels slightly out-of-place.
Overall I feel the material on The Road and the Rodeo is not as good as that on Aaron’s last studio release, the excellent Angels and Outlaws (which I warmly recommend), and some of the melodies repeat those he has used earlier, but it’s still an enjoyable record.
The Road and the Rodeo is readily available from amazon and all other major retailers.