My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Best Of The Best: 25 Greatest Hits’

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.

Grade: A+

10 responses to “Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Best Of The Best: 25 Greatest Hits’

  1. Ben Foster February 23, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    I will very likely be buying this. I don’t currently own any Gene Watson albums, but this seems like a good starting point for a Watson collection.

    • Ben Foster February 23, 2012 at 6:33 pm

      …And now that I’ve posted the above comment, I remember that I actually do own one Watson album – last year’s Rhonda Vincent collaboration ‘Your Money & My Good Looks.’ (Love it – need to go back and listen to it again) Regardless, I will still be buying this new collection.

  2. luckyoldsun February 23, 2012 at 11:52 pm

    I don’t plan on buying this. Gene’s old albums are turning up regularly on CD now–as two-fers on a U.K. import and I’ve bought several of those. I try to stick with original recordings–over remakes that attempt to duplicate the original.

    Especially if it’s an artist–or recordings–that I’m not all that familiar with. I want to hear the recordings that actually made the artist into a star–not later immitations.

    I guess I’ll have to take the reviewer’s word for it, but I’d be amazed if it’s eally hard to tell recordings made by the 68-year-old Watson from those that he made in his 30’s.

    • Grasscutter February 28, 2012 at 4:52 pm

      I remember you from the CMT message board. You were very critical on there of Gene’s singing, back then. Why do you even bother to comment if it isn’t going to be positive thoughts? Don’t think you are going to make other people turn on Gene when we already know he is THE BEST and will ALWAYS be the best. Go listen to this modern, so called country crap like Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood, Jason Aldean, Montgomery Gentry, and just leave Gene Watson to his TRUE FANS!!!! We respect him and in turn, he respects us. Have a nice day!!!!

    • Paul W Dennis March 2, 2012 at 6:48 am

      I saw Gene perform in Weirsdale Florida – he looks like an old man but if you closed your eyes you’d swear that was a 30-something performing up on the stage

      Great show

  3. Doug P February 28, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    i’ve got the new Greatest Hits and as the reviewer stated, it really is an amazing album. The originals are so great but what Gene does on the remakes , his voice has an added dimension and of course the production is so crisp and clean, it makes the music just sparkle. I have almost all Gene Watson’s albums and I wouldn’t miss having this one for anything. I can’t stop playing it.

  4. Sally Bedow February 28, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    Our family has been Gene Watson fans since the late ’60’s and we saw him several times back in his honkytonk/beer joint days in Houston. As his career blossomed and grew, our enjoyment of his music grew right along with it. This new CD is truly a gift. A musical gift of enormous proportions from an artist to his fans. He made this CD for us, his fans. Every track bests the original. And what longtime Gene Watson fan would ever have believed that a re-recorded “Farewell Party” could be better than the original? But it is. Gene’s voice, his professionalism, his desire for perfection in his music are all clearly apparent on this wonderful CD. If you like traditional country music, Gene Watson is your guy and his music is your music. A “must have” in any country music collection!

  5. Grasscutter February 28, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    VERY good article about the GREAT Gene Watson. I’ve listened to his music for MANY MANY years and have every single song he ever recorded. Even tho I have the original songs on his NEW CD, I STILL enjoy this new recording VERy much. This new CD just proves to the whole world, that Gene Watson is THE BEST TRADITIONAL COUNTRY alive. His voice has NOT changed over these 50 years and in fact I think it may be better. If you don’t get the CD and listen to it, you will be sorry. Just put it in the player, relax, and listen until you have to put it on repeat. You won’t regret it.

  6. Paul W Dennis March 9, 2012 at 3:53 am

    I went to see Eddie & Martha Adcock perform in Mount Dora, FL on Wednesday night. In speaking with them (separately) after the show they both told me that GeneWatson was their favorite country singer. Eddie probably isn’t well know to this readership, but he was is an incredibly important figure in the history of bluegrass music, both as a part of The Country Gentlemen and as a solo act and with his wife Martha. The very first bluegrass album I ever purchased was an album he did with Don Reno on Rebel Records back in 1968

  7. carole cadarette May 14, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    I bought Gene’s new alblum at the Orange Blossom Opry in Weirsdale Florida, this past February. On my return trip to Michigan I enjoyed listening to it. What an artist. I have all of his recordings, the orginals. Some were used on a local radio station, when country was country. My 93 year old Mother was thrilled to have her picture taken with Gene, he is still handsome and better yet, he can still sing.

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