My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Dale Watson – ‘Cheatin’ Heart Attack’

51MFGTxuTyL._SS280There is no question that country music has changed (some would say “devolved”) over the past 15-20 years to the point that most of the music released today bears little or no resemblance to the music that preceded it. But although no one would argue that the music hasn’t changed, one doesn’t always realize how far the genre has strayed from its roots until one listens to an album like Cheatin’ Heart Attack, an unapologetic honky-tonk album that should be held up as one of the benchmarks of what country music should aspire to be.

Alabama native Dale Watson and his band The Lone Stars recorded the album in Austin and it was released in 1995 on the HighTone label. It consists of a generous 14 tracks, 13 of which Watson had a hand in writing. The only song he didn’t write or co-write is a cover of Stonewall Jackson’s “Don’t Be Angry”. The rest of the songs are in the vein of what is known in the Lonestar State as “Texas music”: honky-tonk numbers and two-steps with a dash of Western swing. There is plenty of fiddle and pedal steel and none of the pop, arena rock or hip-hop influences that have infiltrated Nashville. This is clearly an album that was not made with an eye on the charts, and any doubts about that are put firmly to rest with the track “Nashville Rash”, in which he complains that he is “too country for country”. It reminds me of something that Waylon Jennings might have recorded, while he channels Johnny Cash on “Holes In The Wall” and Asleep at the Wheel on “South of Round Rock, Texas” — my favorite song on the album.

Watson proves to be a surprisingly effective ballad singer on the weeper “She Needs Her Mama” and does an equally adept job on the waltz “Tonight, All Day Long”. There are no missteps on this album, although the cover of “Don’t Be Angry” is the weakest link.

It would be nice to be able to say that Cheatin’ Heart Attack played a pivotal role in bringing country music back to its roots, as Randy Travis’ Storms of Life did in the 80s, but twenty years after the album’s release the mainstream has only gotten worse and the differences between it and albums like this are even more pronounced. If you miss how country music used to sound, pick up a copy of Cheatin’ Heart Attack. Albums like this are worth supporting.

Grade: A

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