My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Taste Of The Truth’

Taste Of The TruthGene Watson is one of my all-time favorite singers, and it is good to report that he is still sounding great at the age of 65. Listening to his new album, his second for independent label Shanachie, is like listening to a masterclass in singing country music, a subtle rendering of understated emotion. Gene is not a songwriter, so the ultimate artistic success of his records always depend on finding great outside material, and fortunately he has found some fine songs here from some of the best writers currently in Nashville, which are ideally suited to his voice. The overall theme is one of lost love and regret.

It opens with ‘Speakin’ Of The Angel’, a great traditional sounding mid-tempo number written by Shawn Camp and Jim Rushing, which is a joy to listen to even though the protagonist is heartbroken dwelling on his beloved ex planning to marry another:

“If I swear that I don’t love her, God knows it’s a lie,
Speakin’ of the angel is enough to make me cry.”

The title track comes from the pen of Rebecca Lynn Howard, and is a fine ballad with a beautifully realized metaphor, delicately delivered in Gene’s best style, as he addresses another ex, this time one he now regrets having left, finding the freedo he had hungered for has a “lonely flavor”:

“I’d eat my words to have you back
If I thought I could
‘Cause the truth don’t satisfy me
Like I thought it would

In fact it leaves me hollow
With a bad taste in my mouth
It’s hard for me to swallow
Tears won’t wash it down
Knowing you don’t want me back
It’s all that I can do
To keep from chokin’ on
The taste of the truth”

Another gorgeous sad ballad perfect for Gene’s voice is ‘Til A Better Memory Come Along’, previously recorded by both Mark Chesnutt and Shelby Lynne. I like both previous versions, but this is quite lovely as Gene can’t get over the woman who has left and tells her memory so with perhaps the best vocal performance on the album:

“How long will it take before I leave you
In the past where you belong?
One day I might forget
But right now I’m not that strong
So I’ll hold on
Til a better memory comes along”

Just as good is another sad song about failing to get over someone (and obviously not trying very hard), Tim Mensy and Keith Stegall’s ‘Three Minutes At A Time’, as the narrator forgets his troubles for a while by listening to country songs on the jukebox: “it’s heartache in rhyme, but it helps me hang on”, he testifies.

The most unusual song is Harley Allen and John Wiggins’ lovely-sounding but lyrically biting look at the misery caused by love. The song is framed as the point of view of an anthropomorphization of love, who comes across as a frankly malevolent figure, despite the gentle melody and beautiful vocal:

“I make people crazy
Make their hearts beat wild
Cry like little babies
I just watch and smile
I make ’em all unhappy
Still they can’t get enough
You’d think that they would hate me
But still they call me Love

I invented heartbreak
I came up with pain
How much can these fools take?
Are they all insane?
I’m as bad as whiskey
Strong as any drug
Poison when you kiss me
But still they call me Love.”

Current chart star Trace Adkins pays his respects by joining Gene on a riposte to songs like ‘Murder On Music Row’, written by Jerry Salley and Billy Yates. Gene and Trace declare, ‘We’ve Got A Pulse’, vouching for the rude health of country music to a slightly funky up-tempo tune. The cheerful lyric sounds as though it was written specially for the project, with Trace’s lines “We’ve had a few near misses, but like Watson we’re still here” and “This ain’t no farewell party, friends” clearly tailored to Gene and his signature hit. Notably, it is the only happy song on the album. When I first heard this I felt it wasted the potential of Trace’s voice on one of the lesser songs on this set, and I was also diconcerted by the opening lines, which Gene growls out uncharacteristically deeply, but the track is engagingly good-humored and won me over in the end. I could have done without the bar-room cheering towards the end, though.

Rhonda Vincent seems to be supplanting Alison Krauss as the duet partner of choice for many of my favorite singers, and she lends her voice to the steel-dominated ‘Staying Together’, written by Jerry Salley Jr and Monty Holmes, a bleak tale of a couple staying together for the sake of others (their children and their parents), knowing all the while:

“There ain’t nothing sadder
There ain’t nothing colder
Staying together don’t mean it ain’t over.”

It’s a fine song, but although the solo verses from both Gene and Rhonda are great, their voices do not meld together very well on the chorus. I’ve come to the conclusion that much as I like her on lead, I don’t really enjoy her work as a harmony singer.

The aforementioned Alison Krauss offer much more understated harmonies on ‘Use Me Again’, written by Billy Lawson, Curly Putman and Dale Dodson. This is a very good, and beautifully sung, plea to the woman who has called a halt to their fling (“don’t let a little thing like love, baby, mess your good thing up”), which has been somewhat marred by some unnecessary orchestration in the form of the multi-tracked violins and violas of Gail Rudisill-Johnson. This is really the only mis-step by producer Dirk Johnson, as otherwise this is an album featuring lenty of fiddle and steel, but with Gene’s voice and the songs taking center stage. The instrumentation on ‘Use Me Again’ is not that bad, but it falls short of the standard of the rest of the album, and the track would have been more effective with a more stripped-down production.

Gene exercises a little ironic self-deception, which is really not working, as he wilfully refuses to recognize the signs of a woman gone in the wry and enjoyable ‘It’s My Lie’, written by Timothy Menzies and Monty Criswell. Of course those suitcases she left with were packed with charitable donations, and:

“That letter from her lawyer taped to my front door
Doesn’t really mean she doesn’t love me any more
Hey, it’s my lie – I’ll tell it like I want to.”

Tim Mensy and Debbie Hupp contributed the mid-tempo ‘Wrong Way To Find Mr Right’, a sardonic look at that favorite topic of country songs, desperate women looking for love in all the wrong places. Given the extremely high quality of all the material, this song is one of the lesser moments here, but it affords a probably necessary change of pace.

The album closes with a revival of the lesser-known Hank Cochran song ‘I Know An Ending’, previously recorded under the fuller title ‘I Know An Ending When It Comes’ by artists including Jack Greene, Merle Haggard and Emmylou Harris. It is another song that feels tailor-made for Gene, as the protagonist finally realizes it’s all over and responds with sad resignation:

“I may have missed a lot of things you said
I know most of them went right overhead
But with all my heart I know this song’s been sung
And at least I know an ending when it comes.”

This really is my favorite album of the year so far.

Grade: A

Taste Of The Truth is available digitally and in CD form at Amazon.

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10 responses to “Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Taste Of The Truth’

  1. Paul W Dennis August 28, 2009 at 10:26 am

    “This really is my favorite album of the year so far.”

    Amen

    Now that Ray Price is in his 80s (and still doggoned good), Gene Watson is the gold standard against whom I compare all male country singers. A year or two back a reviewer in Memphis commented that Brad Paisley “was no Gene Watson”.

    That true, but you can be very very good and still not be as good as Gene Watson

    • Leeann Ward August 28, 2009 at 9:14 pm

      Yes, and that’s where Brad Paisley invited Watson to sing with him when he went back there, which was a pretty cool idea.

      I really like his previous album, In A Different World, so I plan to grab this one as soon as my Emusic downloads refresh.

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  3. J.R. Journey August 28, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    I should check out this Gene Watson fella you seem to like so much, Occasional Hope. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Let’s Make a 2009 Playlist | Country California

  5. permanant hope September 24, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    In response to Occasional Hope’s very “in depth and quite nice review” of Gene Watson’s new album.

    I think it is without a doubt the best country album perhaps of the new new millenium. It’s been a long time since we’ve been handed such wonderful country “traditional” music. Very well played, very well produced, very well performed by both musicians and of course, Mr. Watson. He just gets better with age.

    I do take issue with a couple of comments in your review. I realize most reviewers are “arm-chair” producers at heart and that probably puts me in the same catagory with this response. 🙂 I think Mr. Johnson made NO “misstep” by using the string section no matter how it was performed and recorded. It’s a beautiful contrast to the solo fiddle that comes in after the strings drop out. Just beautifully arranged and performed. I think it’s a shame that the only time you mention this obviously “well accomplished” producer who also plays the piano and keyboards along with background vocals on the Rhonda Vincent song in which you seem to take issue with her voice. Perhaps the “blend” problem you don’t like on that particular song is really a blend problem you have with the afore mentioned producer Johnson. I think the blend is lovely and while you seem to not like the song WRONG WAY TO FIND MR. RIGHT, I think it’s one of the strongest songs AND cuts on the album. I suppose you wouldn’t be doing your job if you didn’t find somethings to take issue with. However with all the these little things that seem to bug you so badly about the album, in the end you still find it to be your “favorite album of the year so far.” And, at August 28th, when you did your review, that leaves very little of the year left for anything to appear that you will like better. Especially considering submissions for Grammy’s and CMA’s have already passed at this point. SO…………I have to agree with you on your final comment.

    IT IS THE BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR and I can’t imagine anything coming out any better. (certainly not even John Fogerty’s new album which I had hopes for doesn’t begin to touch the quality-much less the talent involved on all areas of this album.

    permanent hope (for country music, that is)

  6. Bob September 25, 2009 at 11:00 am

    From the clips I heard on Amazon, I have to agree that it’s the best album of the year and I will be buying it. But we all know that it isn’t going to go gold and if any singles are released, they won’t come close to the top 40. Yet a bad song like “River of Love” goes to #1. Life ain’t always fair.

  7. Pingback: Year In Review: Razor X’s Top 10 Albums of 2009 « My Kind Of Country

  8. Pingback: Year In Review: Occasional Hope’s Top Ten Albums of 2009 « My Kind Of Country

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