My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Dale Watson

Album Review: Dale Watson & Ray Benson – ‘Dale & Ray’

61mjexmhfpl-_ac_us400_ql65_Duos have been a staple of country music almost from the very beginning. At one time it was fairly common for successful solo artists (usually one male and one female signed to the same label) to regularly collaborate for duet albums in addition to their solo projects. In more recent years it’s been more common for artists to collaborate on one-off or occasional projects rather than working together on a regular basis. Thus, such collaborations became regarded to be “events”.

The coming together of Dale Watson and Ray Benson – like-minded individuals who have fought hard to preserve the genre’s integrity, against the prevailing commercial trends of the day – seems on the surface as though it would be just such an event, but unfortunately it’s a project that never quite comes together. It’s difficult to pinpoint why, exactly; it’s just that Watson and Benson don’t complement each other very well vocally, with Benson being the stronger vocalist of the two. The songs themselves are strong, and the backing musicians are superb but Dale & Ray never quite exceeds the sum of its parts.

The album gets off on the wrong foot with the opening track “The Ballad of Dale & Ray”, a tongue-in-cheek number that they first performed at the Ameripolitan Awards. The humor falls a bit flat; however. It may have worked onstage but it probably wasn’t worthy of being memorialized on record. Things improve considerably with the second track, “Feelin’ Haggard”, a tribute to Merle, who of course, passed away last year. They also play homage to Merle’s Bakersfield mentor Buck Owens on “Cryin’ For Cryin’ Time Again”. They also cover “Write Your Own Songs” which lacks the punch of Willie’s original. Their version of “I Wish You Knew” isn’t bad but a Louvin Brothers cover really needs vocalists who can harmonize better together to truly do it justice.

This is an album that I really wanted to like — and I do like it. I just don’t love it the way I thought I would. It’s the kind of music I love but given a choice I’d rather listen to Asleep at the Wheel or Watson’s solo albums. Together Watson and Benson lack chemistry and the album definitely suffers from a lack of synergy.

Grade: B

Paul W. Dennis’s favorite albums of 2016

real-country-musicBeing the old man of the blog, I suppose it is inevitable that my favorite albums would differ from those of Razor X and Occasional Hope. There is some overlap, however, and where overlap exists I will not comment on the album

(#) on Razor X’s list / ($) on Occasional Hope’s list

15) Tracy Byrd – All American Texan (#)

14) Mark Chesnutt – Tradition Lives (#) ($)

13) Rhonda Vincent – All The Rage, Volume One

Alison Krauss fans notwithstanding, Rhonda is the Queen of Bluegrass music and is also adept at country and western swing numbers. Rhonda has a great band and all of the members are featured. Her guitar player, Josh Williams, is on a par with any acoustic player currently going.

12) Balsam Range – Mountain Voodoo

Balsam Range has been around for about a decade, winning the 2014 IBPA “Entertainer of The Year” and Vocal Group of The Year” awards. Their newest album was nominated for several awards. This band is renowned for their vocal harmonies. Their current single “Blue Collar Dreams” is being played on Bluegrass Junction on XM Radio – it’s a goodie and indicative of their material.

11) John Prine – For Better Or Worse ($)

the-life-and-songs-of-emmylou-harris10) Various Artists – Life and Songs of Emmylou Harris
I suspect that Emmylou Harris is the most highly revered female country singer, particularly for younger country fans and pop music fans. The epitome of elegance and grace, Emmylou has also been a champion of traditional country music. This album contains nineteen tracks with a vast array of admirers who gathered at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington DC on January 10, 2015 to pay tribute. Emmy sings on a few of the tracks but mostly the guests sing songs at least loosely associated with Emmylou. Guests include Sheryl Crow, Alison Krauss, Buddy Miller, Rodney Crowell and others.

09) Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show – Sho Nuff Country

Although focusing on bluegrass, this veteran outfit has a strong propensity to record country music of the period before 1980, and they perform it well. For me the highlights are “Six Pack To Go” and “Why Baby Why”, but I really enjoyed the whole album.

08) Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (& guests) – Circling Back: Celebrating 50 Years
Knowing that this ban has been around for fifty years is making me feel old, since I purchased several of their early albums when they originally came out. This album was recorded live at the Ryman on September 14, 2015 and features the current membership (Jeff Hanna, Jimmie Fadden, Bob Carpenter and John McEuen) augmented by friends Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and Byron House. The guest vocalists include former band members Jimmy Ibbotson and Jackson Browne with John Prine, Alison Krauss, Rodney Crowell and Jerry Jeff Walker also making appearances. Highlights include Alison Krauss singing “Catfish John” , Vince Gill singing “Tennessee Stud” and Sam Bush and Vince Gill teaming up on “Nine Pound Hammer”.

07) Willie Nelson – For The Good Times: A Tribute To Ray Price (#) ($)

06) Time Jumpers – Kid Sister (#)

05) Dallas Wayne – Songs The Jukebox Taught Me ($)

things-we-do-for-dreams04) Trinity River Band – Things I Do For Dreams
I find it odd that Callahan, Florida, a town of about 2000 people, has produced two of my favorite new bluegrass bands in Trinity River Band and Flatt Lonesome. Trinity River Band was nominated for the Emerging Artist award at the recent International Bluegrass Music Association award a few months ago. They play well, sing well and present an effective stage show.

03) Dale Watson – Under The Influence
Had he been born in the 1930s or 1940s, Dale Watson would have been a huge mainstream country star. This album finds Dale tackling a wide array of country and rockabilly classics from bygone years. My favorites from this disc include Dale’s take on the Eddie Rabbitt classic “Pure Love” and his take on the Phil Harris song from the 1940s “That’s What I Like About The South”.

02) Flatt Lonesome – Runaway Train
Flatt Lonesome won the IBMA Vocal Group of The Year award for 2016. They are just flat[t] out good. Their take on Dwight Yoakam’s “You’re The One” has to be heard to be believed, but my favorite track is their cover of the Tommy Collins tune “Mixed Up Mess of A Heart”.

01) Gene Watson – Real. Country. Music ($)
Okay, so I lied, but I cannot let the #1 album go by without the comment that I consider Gene Watson to be the best country male vocalist alive today and that I pray that 2017 sees another new release from Gene.

Christmas Rewind: Dale Watson – ‘Christmas Love’

Album Review: Dale Watson – ‘Call Me Insane’

call me insaneI always look forward to listening to a new Dale Watson album and thus far I’ve never been disappointed with his recorded output. Call Me Insane proves to be no exception.

I thoroughly enjoyed this album, although as a diehard western swing/Texas swing fan, I was a little disappointed to see very little evidence of swing in this album. This is an album of honky-tonk music with a strong Bakersfield flavor. Don’t call it country, though, because Dale definitely doesn’t want his music associated with the tepid and insipid stuff currently heard on country radio and television shows like American Idol. Dale recently reiterated this on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition program.

The opening track is “A Day At A Timer” an up-tempo honky-tonker about taking life a day at a time. Danny Levin takes a nice piano solo and Don Pawlak shines on steel guitar

Next up is a “Bug Ya for Love” is a more mid-tempo country song about the pursuit of an unattached woman. Although light-hearted and humorous, the humorless feminists would probably label it a stalker song. The song features extended piano and steel instrumental breaks.
“Burden of the Cross” is the most interesting song on the album, a somber ballad about a roadside memorial being removed to make room for a highway expansion. As most know by now, Dale’s fiancée lost her life in a car accident, and I suspect that Dale was compelled to write this song, Although not so stated in the lyric, the narrator goes back at night and replaces the memorial.

When I heard the instrumental introduction to “Everybody’s Somebody in Luckenbach, Texas”, I thought I would be hearing “Let’s Chase Each Other Around The Room” but the melody changes up and what we have is a song dedicated to the small Texas town, Waylon Jennings made famous several decades ago . Watson extols the town’s simple charms and a fine woman. on this you can hear the strong influence of Lefty Frizzell on Dale’s vocals.

Songs such as “Crocodile Tears” were staples of classic country music – the same old story of a lover that has died and a heartbroken lover trying to convince himself that his ex still loves him.

“Jonesin’ For Jones” is a tribute to the departed king of the honky-tonkers, George Jones. This upbeat song finds Dale wanting to see the George perform again. As Dale puts it ‘thank God that his music still lives on’. Amen to that! The lyrics name a number of George’ song and there are musical signatures of several songs, most notably “White Lightning”. I think George would really like this song.

“I’m Through Hurtin’” finds our hero seeking pain relief through a night on the town. I love the steel guitar work on this mid-tempo ballad, This is followed by the title track “Call Me Insane” a very slow ballad about a man who hopes for a better end to relationships than he has experienced in the past. He retains hope even though it may be insane to do so. Dale’s vocals are very nuanced and full of intospection. The use of trombone, sax and trumpet as accents is masterfully handled.

“Heaven’s Gonna Have a Honky Tonk” is honky-tonker about Dale’s concept of heaven and his thanks for being allowed to live the life he lives.

I read in the good book
Heaven is a place
Where the only thing we’ll have
Is all we’ll want
If he said it
Then it’s true
Well I’ve got news for you
Heaven’s gonna have a honky-tonk

I’m not really wild about songs sung in two languages. For instance I always preferred Jack Greene’s original version of “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” to Freddy Fender’s later bilingual version (that Greene was a far superior vocalist also figured into the equation). That said, “Tienes Cabeza de Palo” is a nice changeup. The Bing translator translates this a ‘You Have A Stick Head’ but I suspect it means something like ‘You’re hard headed’) Mariachi horns highlight the production.

“I Owe It All to You” is a ballad in which Dale thanks his woman’s ex for being such a jerk that she ended the relationship . “Forever Valentine” is an ideal ballad with which to follow up the previous song.

Dale picks up the tempo again with “Hot Dang” a song that compares falling in love with a sunny day. The melody reminds me at times of “The Race Is On” and the song is a bit of a throwaway.

Up to this point all of the songs on the album were written or co-written by Dale. The album ends with a Tony Joe White composition “Mamas Don’t Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to Be Babies.” The title, an inversion of Ed Bruce’s 1976 top twenty hit that Waylon & Willie took to #1 in 1978, exhots mothers to raise their sons as cowboys.
Once again, Dale Watson has a tight honky-tonk band, this time without a fiddle in the band. Lloyd Maines plays acoustic guitar while Dale plays the electric lead. Don Pawlak is on steel with Chris Crepps on upright bass and Mike Bernal on drums. On the few tracks where brass is used, it is The Wise Guys at work (Jon Blondell – trombone, Jerry Colarusso – saxophone, Ricky White – trumpet)

I like this album, I like it a lot and while it is not one of my favorite Dale Watson albums, it is still one that has been playing in my car CD player for the last week and is a worthy entry into the Dale Watson canon.


Classic Rewind: Dale Watson – ‘The Hand Of Jesus’

Album Review: Dale Watson – ‘El Rancho Azul’

MI0003479813Released just two years ago, El Rancho Azul continues Watson in the tradition of what’s made his career – hardcore country music appealing to honky tonkers out of Texas. This time he’s working with a new record company, Red House Label, which is known for releasing contemporary folk music.

True to form, the album is classic Watson. Of the fourteen tracks, six are drinking songs that rank among the most memorable songs on the album. “I Lie When I Drink” is a fast-paced fiddle drenched barroom anthem about a guy who throws ‘em back when he misses his girl. “I Drink to Remember” is a twang-drenched juxtaposition of a couple in two separate barrooms. The clever lyric has the guy drinking to remember the good times while she drinks to drown out the bad.

In “Drink, Drink, Drink” Watson has nothing but booze to lean on while he channels a wonderful hybrid of Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings. “I Hate To Drink Alone” begins as a variation, but sinks into yet another my-baby-left-me song. Watson may hate drinking by himself, but it’s just what he’s doing, even though he can justify it by keeping her memory on his mind.

“Smokey Old Bar” is an odd-one-out, a bit too cluttered musically and far too soft by Watson vocally. The final drinking song, “Thanks To Tequila” finds Watson back in Haggard mode, channeling him spectacularly.

Besides the domination of drinking songs, El Rancho Azul contains “Daughter’s Wedding Song,” a wedding waltz that’s among the most commercial song he’s ever recorded. While the track is beautifully constructed, it’s so against the grain for Watson, it feels out of place not just one of his albums but in his catalog as a whole. But as a stand-alone song, it works quite well.

As far as I’m concerned, El Rancho Azul is just more of the same from Watson. By this late point in his career, it’s easy to know exactly what to expect when listening to one of his albums. That being said, he’s still excellent at what he does, which is second to none.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Dale Watson – ‘I Hate These Songs’

Album Review: Dale Watson – ‘From The Cradle To The Grave’

from the cradle to the grave2007’s From The Cradle To The Grave was recorded in a Tennessee cabin once owed by Johnny Cash, and Cash’s shadow looms over the production and vocals, with one direct tribute to the Man in Black, ‘Runaway Train’.

The strongest song is the compelling western story song, ‘Justice For All’, about a man tempted to seek fierce revenge for the death of his child even though he know it is wrong:

“Revenge is mine”, said the Lord
Well the Lord’s one lucky guy…

An eye for an eye
Would leave the whole world blind
Forgiveness is the way
But I can’t forgive his crime
And if I had the chance
In truth I’d have to say
I’d gun that bastard down
With a smile upon my face

On a journey of revenge
Be sure to dig two graves

Also excellent is the wearied lost-love song ‘It’s Not Over Now’ and the Cash-like ‘Time Without You’.

As usual Watson wrote most of the songs. There is one outside contribution, the cautionary ‘You Always Get What You Always Got’, written by Gail Davies, her son Chris Scruggs, and the latter’s BR5-49 bandmate Chuck Mead. Watson channels his inner Cash again on this one, which advises against expecting different results from the same actions – very good.

‘Why Oh Why Live A Lie’ has a bright bluegrassy feel despite a challenge to a spouse who he knows doesn’t live him despite her protestations. I really enjoyed this track.

‘Yellow Mama’ is the nickname of the official Alabama electric chair, and the song of that title is a murder ballad from the point of view of the killer. The dour ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’ has a very dark feeling.

The title track is unsatisfying: starting out sounding like a story song, the narrative is abandoned in favour of some half-realised philosophy.

The good humoured ‘Hollywood Hillbilly’ about a redneck turned movie star who has not forgotten his roots features a came from Watson’s friend Johnny Knoxville (who owned the Cash cabin where the record was recorded).

While not Watson’s very best, this is still a strong album with some excellent songs.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Dale Watson – ‘If I Was A Truckin’ Man/I’ll Never Drink Again’

Album Review: Dale Watson – ‘Heah!!’/’Whiskey or God’

51V1Y7TJRXL-2Whiskey or God, released on Palo Dura Records in 2006 is exactly the same album as Heeah!!, which was issued on the Continental Song City label in 2005. Same songs, in the same sequence – if you have one album, you don’t need the other – but you should have one of them. Heck – buy ’em both and keep one as a spare!

Regardless of which title the album has, it is a great album which finds Watson delivering fourteen songs with the fire and passion he typically invests in all of his recordings.

The band that accompanies Dale on this album is top shelf all the way consisting of Dale (lead guitar), Herb Bolofsky (drums), Gene Kurtz (bass), Don Pawlak (pedal steel), Don Raby (fiddle), Jon Blondell (trombone), and former Asleep At The Wheel pianist Floyd Domino. Background ground vocals seem a bit sparse but Dale has such a compelling voice, this represents but a very minute shortcoming. On a few numbers Dale adds some tenor vocals.

The album opens with sad but upbeat “Sit And Drink And Cry.” Fabulous steel guitar and fiddle dominate the background. Watson’s forlorn lead vocal is forlorn in a very upbeat way,

The second track “Whiskey Or God” is pretty self-explanatory

Whiskey or God
Is gonna bring me relief
Believin or not
Bending my elbow or my knees
I’m gonna drink until my conscience bleeds
Before I fall asleep I’m gonna say a prayer for a brighter day
Whiskey or God
Bring salvation to me

“I Don’t Feel Too Lucky Today” is a song Merle Haggard, Bob Wills or Asleep At The Wheel would have been proud to record. Dale wrote this mid-tempo ballad and the song has lovely steel/fiddle tandem work.

“No Help Wanted” is the story of an unemployed truck driver, stuck in Pittsburgh perusing the classified ads but finding nothing.

Next up is a tender love ballad “My Heart Is Yours”

It’s been through hell and back
Been broke showin’ cracks
But it’s yours, my heart is yours

It’s been a while since it had to feel
Love shy and newly healed
But it’s yours, my heart is yours

Let’s take it easy, it’s easy to see girl
It still ain’t that strong
It’s barely beaten from being so beaten
For so long

It’s been through hell and back
Been broken, showin’ cracks
But it’s yours, my heart is yours

This is followed by “It Hurts So Good”, another song that has a strong western swing feel.

There aren’t too many songs about truck drivers who are transvestites or drag queens but Dale has never lacked for courage and takes an entertaining stab at the topic with “Truckin’ Queen ( I Got My Nightgown On)”. I suspect that this one never got any airplay.

“Darlin’ Look At Me Now” is another song about a guy who is nuts about a girl – nothing special in terms of either the lyrics or arrangement but certainly more than mere filler.

“I Wish I Was Crazy Again” is the first track on the album in which the trombone is prominent as an accent. The song reminds me of something Haggard might have written, and that is never a criticism, because I have never heard a bad Merle Haggard song, This song is taken at a medium -slow tempo

You left me, I left too
I went right out of my head
The old boy they all knew
They all knew was pretty much dead

You know, they say I went crazy
And by “crazy” I mean mentally insane
I had a world where I still had you
Oh I wish I was crazy again

Crazy again, crazy in love
Ignorantly bliss baby
That’s what dreams are made of
There was no hurtin’
I lived life without pain
You’d still be in my arms baby
If I was crazy again

I’ve never really associated Dale Watson with Cajun music, but here he proves that he is no stanger to the genre with happy and danceable “I Ain’t Been Right, Since I’ve Been Left.” Don Raby really kicks this one off with a great Cajun fiddle introduction.

Dale slows down the tempo with “Tequilla and Teardrops” which again features brass and a subdued mariachi feeling.

When I was single forty some-odd years ago I was often looking for “38..21..34” but rarely found it and when I did find it, I quickly realized it wasn’t that important. It’s a fun upbeat medium-fast song there Hank Williams song “Hey Good Looking” is sampled in the lyrics

“Outta Luck” is a honky-tonk romp about a fellow who keeps plugging along but can’t apparently catch a break , although it is unclear whose fault that is, he doesn’t necessarily blame himself or anyone else but knows he needs a change of scenery.

“Heaah!!” is the title song for that album as it was released in Europe. Jon Blondell’s trombone gives the song the feel of a big band or perhaps the feel of one of Bob Will’s larger, jazzier bands.

This is a very strong album that works the line between honky-tonk and western swing, with more lean toward western swing. The band is crisp throughout and I wouldn’t regard any of the songs as misses, and Dale’s vocals are strong throughout with any missteps.

Grade: A+

Classic Rewind: Dale Watson – ‘I Ain’t Been Right Since I’ve Been Left’

Album Review: Dale Watson – ‘Dreamland’

MI0000415868For his seventh studio album, Dale Watson desired change. For Dreamland he hired Ray Benson, of Asleep At The Wheel, to produce. Watson had a hand in writing each of the tracks on Dreamland, which was released on Koch Records in 2004.

The album maintains a consistent speed throughout, with a focus on mid-tempo numbers that play up the pedal steel and twangy guitars. True to Watson’s unique brand, Dreamland features Texas country all the way.

A perfectly exemplifier of the record as a whole is opener “Honky Tonkers Don’t Cry,” which features steel, twang, and Watson’s distinctive voice. “Ain’t A Cow in Texas” showcases Watson’s playful side. “I Wish You’d Come Around” is a great neo-traditional ballad, although Watson could’ve injected a bit more personality into his vocal performance.

While it’s hard to find any significant faults with Dreamland, a criticism of the album is the slick production; a more perfect sound then had been featured on Watson’s recordings up until that point. While the album certainly lacks a bit of roughness, I didn’t feel the production hindered any enjoyment of the tracks as a whole.

Like, say, George Strait, Watson is a very consistent performer who sticks to the sounds that work for him. In his non-commercial world, his approach works just fine. Thankfully it works in the real world, too, making Dreamland a very enjoyable yet not totally essential listen. To anyone who really enjoys Texas country, this is the album for you.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Dale Watson – ‘Give Me More Kisses’

Album Review: Dale Watson – ‘Every Song I Write Is For You’

every song i write is for youIn 2001 Dale’s life was derailed when his girlfriend Terri Herbert was tragically killed in a car crash. He made this album in tribute to her, and her impact on his life. It is, understandably, the most personal record he ever made.

The affecting title track depicts her as a woman who loved music and wanted him to write songs for her.

Every time I write the word ‘love’ down on paper
It’s like scratching your name into my heart…
From now on, every song that I write is for you

‘If I Knew Then What I Know Now’ is wistfully sad, regretting he had not made the most of their time together. He also bemoans the future they were robbed of in ‘These Things We’ll Never Do’. He sounds a little more comforted in ‘Your Love I’m Gonna Miss’.

‘I SeeMy Future’ parallels his own loss with a story about an older man who is still bearing the scars of a similar bereavement:

Now I can’t understand why she left and I’m still here
I’m living but I ain’t living

“I can’t understand why she’s gone
And I’m still here…
I’m living but I ain’t living”…

Lighting strikes sometimes twice
Fate deals the same hand…

I’ve seen my future in a man

The even bleaker ‘I’d Deal With The Devil’ shows how deep the wound of his beloved’s loss ran. ‘I See Your Face In Every Face I See’ and ‘Our First Times And Our Last Times’ detail his obsessive thoughts of her.

‘One More For Her’ is a more conventional song about drinking to deal with loss.

The lighter ‘You’re The Best Part Of Me’ has a country-jazz feel, and ‘Your Money Can’t Buy Her Love’ is big band meets western swing. ‘Hey Chico’ looks back fondly on their relationship, with a Tex Mex feel to the arrangement. The gentle ‘Angel In My Dreams’ shows him coming to terms with the reality of loss, but he then reverts to a state of denial where he finds ‘I Can’t Let You Go’.

Very real emotions are stripped bare on a very sad record, befitting its origins, and a very moving one.

Grade: A+

Album Review: Dale Watson & His Lone Stars – ‘People I’ve Known, Places I’ve Been’

71dIUzFXS1L._SX522_If you’re a fan of bro-country or most of what can be heard on country radio today, then Dale Watson’s People I’ve Known, Places I’ve Been is not the album for you. It was released in 1999 and even then it stood in stark contrast to the increasingly pop-oriented country music of the day. While technically it should be classified as Texas music, a subgenre that fans in the Lone Star State have long contended is distinct and separate from anything produced in Nashville, it has a lot of Bakersfield influences and at times Watson sounds a lot like a young Merle Haggard.

This is the first Dale Watson album on which his band The Lone Stars receive equal billing and it isn’t difficult to understand why. Much of what makes the album work is the excellent musicianship: from the Buck Owens-style Telecaster to the fiddle and pedal steel that are featured prominently throughout the album. It could be argued that this is a concept album, but only in the loosest sense of the term. The songs all stand on their own, but they are all about places that the songs’ protagonist has visited and the people he has encountered there, from local characters such as the owner of the local liquor store and a shoeshine man, to a prison guard and honky-tonk musicians.

These are mostly Texas dancehall numbers; all of them are extremely well done and will appeal to hardcore country fans, but they to tend to blend together a bit. Nothing is particularly memorable, with two exceptions: “Luther” and “From England To Texas”. The former is a tribute to Luther Monroe Perkins who was a member of Johnny Cash’s band The Tennessee Three and credited with helping Cash develop his “boom-chicka-boom” sound. Perkins was a well known figure in rockabilly music in the 1950s and 1960s and died at the age of 40 in 1968 when he fell asleep while holding a lit cigarette.

“From England To Texas” stands out because it a rare ballad among the up-and-mid-tempo numbers that dominate this album, and because of the difference in setting. It finds Watson sitting in a lonely London hotel room and everything about his surroundings, despite being very different from Texas, reminds him of home. I’m also willing bet that it is one of a very few country music songs to namecheck the late Diana, Princess of Wales. It’s very well written and another example of Watson channeling Merle Haggard.

People I’ve Known, Places I’ve Been, is a thoroughly enjoyable, if not particularly memorable album and recommended for anyone who enjoys authentic country music.

Grade: A-

Classic Rewind: Dale Watson – ‘I Lie When I Drink’

Album Review: Dale Watson – ‘The Truckin’ Sessions’

truckin sessionsOnce upon a time, a long time ago, on a faraway planet similar to, yet very different from our own, existed a genre of music called Country Music. Within that genre was a subgenre know as Truck Driving Music, a subgenre mostly populated by big men with deep rumbling voices that sounded of too many cigarettes and too much coffee consumed at 3 AM at truck stops and diners around the country. This subgenre was populated by legendary singers such as Dick Curless, Del Reeves, Red Simpson, and Red Sovine. The king of the genre, the man so loved by truck drivers that the Teamsters Union awarded him a gold membership card, was Dave Dudley.

Meanwhile back on our own planet, the genre of Truck Driving Music barely exists at all, at least to judge from what is played by radio and CMT. What we have instead is songs about ruttish young males with their pickup trucks searching for scantily-clad females. Most of it is garbage and almost none of it is memorable.

That the genre of Truck Driving Music exists at all is largely due to the efforts of one brave man, Dale Watson, who has issued three complete albums of Truck Driving Music, starting with The Truckin’ Sessions, issued in 1993. With this album Watson brings the feel of classic Truck Driving Music front and center for the first time in at least a decade and a half , or since the decline of the CB era.

Dale Watson wrote all fourteen of the songs on The Truckin’ Sessions, and while it might have been interesting to hear Dale’s take on some of the old classics of the genre, the product presented here is more than satisfactory , and is a worthy successor to the tunes of Dave Dudley, Red Simpson, et al.

Most of the songs on the album are taken at an up-tempo reminiscent of Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road” or “There Ain’t No Easy Rides”; however, the overall feel of the album owes more to the ‘Bakersfield Sound’ of Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Speedy West and Red Simpson, than to anything produced in Nashville.

“Good Luck ‘n’ Good Truckin’ Tonite” opens the album with one of those up-tempo songs referenced above. This track is followed by “Big Wheels Keep Rollin’ ” a song which reminds me of the Merle Haggard classic “White Line Fever”

Big wheels keep rollin’
Feel the rumble ‘neath my feet
Big wheels keep rollin’
The feelin’s a part of me

This is followed by “Heaven In Baltimore” an upbeat number about the girl waitin for him in Baltimore. The arrangement is similar to the ‘freight train’ sound that Buck Owens used during the 1960s.

Heaven in Baltimore
Heaven in Baltimore
Put the pedal to the metal
She’s waitin’ by the door
My Heaven in Baltimore

“Have You Got It On” is a mid-tempo ballad featuring some really nice steel guitar work by band member Ricky (C-Note) Davis. In fact, Davis shines through the album.

I see you roving up by tough look side
You got a six foot Shakespeare stickin’ in the sky
You’re smiling at me from your side view mirror
We might be closer than we appear

Babe, have you got it on?
Babe, have you got it on?
Come on, come on, come back
Babe, have you got it on?

“Makin’ Up Time” picks up the tempo as does “Flat Tire”, a song about a trucker stranded by a flat. The arrangement on this song would fit nicely onto many of Dave Dudley’s efforts.

“Drag Along and Tag Along” is a bluesy ballad in which Davis runs some steel guitar runs that remind one of Speedy West.

“Exit 109″ finds our hero being seduced by a female on the CB radio for a tryst, whereas ” Help Me Joe” tells the tale of a trucker far away from home who is fueled by coffee in his efforts to survive

“Everyday Knuckleclutchin’ Gearjammin’ Supertruckin’ Loose Nut Behind The Wheel” is a trucker’s self-description of himself and his life.

Stopped to grab a cup of Pick-Me-Up
At the Pink Poodle Coffee Shop
I had a pow-wow with a couple of pals
I said I’d meet there on the flip flop
We started tradin’ stories with a little added glory
You’d think we were made of steel
Just your everyday knuckleclutchin’ gearjammin’ …

“You’ve Got A Long Way To Go” is an older truckers words of advice to a young driver.

“Longhorn Suburban” is a mid-tempo ballad extolling the joys of the open road.

The up-tempo arrangement, reminiscent of Del Reeves’ “Looking At The World Through A Windshield”, belies the sad lyrics of “I’m Fixin’ To Have Me A Breakdown”, a tale of a truck driver whose girl has left him.

Despite the solitary nature of the job, most truck drivers are family men and the reason why they persevere is exemplified by “I Gotta Get Home To My Baby”. It’s a topic that has been dealt with many times, and Dale does it as well as anyone.

That big eyed smile and a long hard hug
That’s what I got waitin’ for me
Move out of my way
I gotta get there today
She’s got her heart countin’ on me

I really liked this album and the full and tight sound Dale’s band achieves with only four musicians. Because Dale plays his own lead guitar, he seems to let the steel guitar carry more of the melody lines than might otherwise be the case. Preston Rumbaugh plays bass and Brian Ferriby plays the percussion as it should be played – strictly to keep the rhythm.

Grade: an easy A+

Classic Rewind: Dale Watson – ‘Nashville Rash/Country, My Ass’

Album Review: Dale Watson – ‘I Hate These Songs’

MI0000139086Dale Watson released his completely self-penned third album, I Hate These Songs, in 1997. Produced once again by Bruce Bromberg, the album failed to chart and didn’t produce any singles.

The album itself contains fourteen tracks. The record opens strong, with the excellent “Jack’s Truck Stop and Café,” a story song embellished with a lovely arrangement soaked with fiddle and steel.

Watson spends the rest of the album convincingly channeling Waylon Jennings and throwing back to the lovely honky-tonk country that was popular in the 1960s. I Hate These Songs is a real delight, with the fiddle and steel that prominently drench every track.

I will admit that I’m a newcomer to Watson’s brand of country music. I’ve never listened to his work before writing this review. I knew exactly what to expect in his sound, but he’s even better than I could’ve imagined.

Watson’s sound on I Hate These Songs is a beautiful hybrid of Jennings along with the distinctive style Dave Dudley popularized back in the day. I was blown away by the mid-tempo chug of “Hey Driver,” another of Watson’s famous truckin’ anthems, and a brilliant blending of twangy lead guitar and copious helpings of steel. “Hair of the Dog” is a perfect ode to Jennings, from the distinctive guitar work to Watson’s unmistakable baritone.

The title track isn’t a message about the album itself so much as a sorrow-filled reflection from a man viewing the world through the influence of alcohol. It’s also a fantastic barroom ballad.

In reality, there isn’t a wrong note to be found on I Hate These Songs. Watson has perfectly crafted a cohesive project that plays like a complete work from beginning to end. I may not have checked him out before, but after taking the time to listen to I Hate These Songs, I’m excited to listen to what else his catalog has in store.

Grade: A

Album Review: Dale Watson – ‘Blessed Or Damned’

Dale’s second album continued his assertion of being too country for country music, as he works his way through a collection of self-penned material covering all the traditional themes of country music. The music is dominated by steel guitar, and as traditional country as one can imagine.

The low key title track is a pensive consideration of the contrast between those musicians who achieve fame and fortune, and those, like himself, struggling in obscurity:

Read about a singer
That took home all the awards
I guess he’s one of the chosen few
That’s his reward
But there’s a troubadour in a beer joint
And he’s singing to empty chairs and his empty cans
No, it ain’t hard to figure out
Who’s blessed or damned

I hope heaven has a place
For those of us who lost our way
And I pray He’ll understand
And bless the damned

He appeals to DJs to play ‘A Real Country Song’, i.e. one of the classics of the past.

Trucking songs had enjoyed a fad in the 1970s, but had long fallen out of favour with mainstream country music. Dale, defiantly non-commercial, chose to include a brace of trucking songs on this album. ‘Truckin’ Man’, about a wannabe trucker, chugs along efficiently with trucking rhythms. ‘Truckstop In La Grange’ is a bit less interesting.

The gospel sounding ‘Fly Away’ is really a cheerful drinking song. Traditional honky tonker ‘Honkiest Tonkiest Beer Joint’ is a fond tribute to a favourite drinking spot. The stylishly performed western swing ‘Poor Baby’ is a sardonic, faux-sympathetic look at a constant loser who drinks too much and too often, with fabulous steel guitar.

‘It’s Over Again’ is a very good sad song about a marriage in a repeat pattern of breaking up and getting back together. The wearied ‘It’s All behind Us Now’ looks back at a failed relationship once all the dust has settled.

The sober ‘Everyone Knew But Me’ is about the depressing enlightenment of a man once blinded by love and fooled by a cheating spouse he thought was an “angel”.

There are a couple of story songs, the better of which is the compelling mining saga ‘Shortcut To The Streets Of Gold’. The gloomy ‘Sweet Jessie Brown’ is about a girl whose youthful dreams of fame are derailed by love and motherhood, and who is then driven to suicide by the loss of her child.

The likeable fiddle led ‘That’s What I Like About Texas’ paints a rosy picture of the musical life of the Lone Star State, and is performed as a duet with veteran Johnny Bush.

‘Cowboy Lloyd Cross’ is about an Austin maker of cowboy hats, and is not all that interesting.

Overall, an excellent album in retro 60s/70s country style.

Grade: A