Many a veteran artist has littered the landscape with albums of new recordings of the hit songs from their glory days. Sometimes the intent is to squeeze a little more money from their prior hits, but more often the motivation is to make available to the faithful songs that are otherwise unavailable except as used merchandise. Unfortunately, too often the remakes are very different than the original hit versions. Either the arrangements are wrong, or the recording is made on a limited budget with fewer musicians and/or synthesizers substituting for real instruments. Too often, the artist has lost some of the vocal quality that propelled him (her) to stardom or sounds bored with trudging to the recording studio to re-record songs already sung thousands of times.
Gene Watson, long considered a ‘singer’s singer’ remains, at age 68, one of the great voices in the history of country music. If anything, he sings better now than during his chart heydays of the mid-1970s – mid-1980s. The voice is still there and he has become a more polished and nuanced singer.
Over the course of his long career Gene Watson has recorded for many labels including Resco, Capitol, Epic, Mercury, MCA, Broadlands, Step One, Gusto, UMG and several others. Consequently it was impossible for Gene’s fans to get many of these songs in their original versions. While there have been several good collections on Gene over the last few years, most have fallen out of print, leaving lesser collections and some remakes made for labels such as IMG/Gusto as still being available.
The recordings on this CD are remakes, but in most cases you’d need to be a Gene Watson fanatic to tell that these are not the original hit recordings. In making these recordings, Gene went back and listened to the hit recordings, used the original arrangements, sang them in the original keys, used highly accomplished musicians (I think some of the original musicians among them) and attempted to replicate the original hit recordings – with great success. The one area where I noticed a difference was in the harmony vocals, which are just slightly different at times.
All of the usual suspects are here: “Farewell Party”, “Fourteen Carat Mind”, “Love In The Hot Afternoon”, “You’re Out Doing (What I’m Here Doing Without)” , “Should I Go Home (Or Should I Go Crazy)”, “Got No Reason Now For Going Home” but Gene has also gathered together some of the hits that appeared on labels for whom he but briefly recorded such as the magnificent “Don’t Waste It On The Blues” from his two album stay with Mercury and “Memories To Burn” from his three album sojourn with Epic. Also from his years with Epic is a song that was a hit in Europe and the British Isles but not Stateside in “Carmen” (Gene’s most requested song when he visits Ireland), plus some great story-songs that seemed to have passed by the wayside in “Paper Rosie”, “The Old Man and His Horn” and “Pick The Wildwood Flower”.
This is a great album, but then I’m prejudiced – I’ve always been a Gene Watson fan and I’m an old fart about to turn sixty. I loaned my advance copy to some of my younger co-workers who profess to like country music, but of the Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, Taylor Swift variety. One of them wasn’t enthused by the songs but noted that Watson is a better vocalist than anyone she’s heard on the radio lately, one really liked the album but wondered why he hadn’t ever heard of Gene Watson (I wondered the same thing), and the third sent me an e-mail replying that she thought the album was “awesome”.
I don’t use words like “awesome” but darned if I don’t agree with her assessment.
If you don’t have anything by Gene Watson, this is a great place to start. If there are holes in your collection, this will fill some of them. If like me, you have everything Gene has recorded, you’ll still want this album as the sound on this album is terrific and some of the original hits were not as well recorded (or are available only on vinyl).
I’d like to say I’m looking forward to a follow up volume, but Gene only had another ten or twelve songs that could really qualify as hits. There are dozens of great songs in his albums, however, I’d love to hear him go ‘deep catalogue’ and remake some of those songs. Or perhaps visit the canon of great country songs. Since Gene never really recorded many covers, this might be the time.