My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Gene Watson

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘Love In The Hot Afternoon’

Spotlight Artist: Dale Watson

dale watsonAs noted British detective Sherlock Holmes might have observed, “It’s really elementary, my good fellow. If you want to hear good country music, go listen to Watson”

We have already spotlighted the great Gene Watson and the young Texas swing/honky-tonk star Aaron Watson, and perhaps sometime we will spotlight the great Doc Watson. This month, however, we spotlight the most iconoclastic (or perhaps sardonic) of the Watson clan, Dale Watson.

While I regard Dale Watson as being quintessentially country, Dale no longer refers to himself as “country” preferring to distance himself from the fodder currently being produced in Nashville, but to listeners of my generation, Dale Watson is unquestionably country. Whether you use Dale’s preferred term “Ameripolitan” or “country”, Dale Watson is the real deal.

Dale Watson was born in October 1962 near Pasadena, Texas. Watson wrote his first song as a pre-teen and make his first recording at age 14. Apparently Watson had a contentious upbringing as he was emancipated before the normal age of eighteen. He spent the next several years playing the juke joints, skull orchards and night clubs in Texas.

Dale moved to Los Angeles in 1988 on the advice of Rosie Flores and soon joined the house band at North Hollywood’s famous Palomino Club. Dale first came to national attention when he appeared on the third volume of the compilation series A Town South of Bakersfield, in 1992, an interesting album I highly recommend (this was my introduction to Dale Watson). From there, he moved to Nashville and eventually to Austin, Texas.

Once back in Texas, Dale formed his band, the Lone Stars, and landed a recording deal with Hightone Records, a very forward thinking independent label. His first album Cheatin’ Heart Attack, was released in 1995. The album featured a shot-across-the bow at radio country in “Nashville Rash.” This was followed by the excellent Hightone albums Blessed or Damned (1996) and I Hate These Songs.

Changing labels to Koch, Dale next released The Truckin’ Sessions (1998), the first of three such albums that Dale would record over the years devoted to truck-driving songs.

In 2000 Dale suffered a tragedy in his life when his girlfriend Terri Herbert was killed in an automobile accident. The story of Dale’s attempts to cope after this tragedy is the subject of the Zalman King documentary Crazy Again. Dale’s next album Every Song I Write Is For You (2001) served as a catharsis for Dale.

Since then, Dale Watson has released (or has had released by former labels) an album or more per year on a wide variety of labels. Although he is a proficient and accomplished songwriter, he has no reluctance to cover the material of other writers and/or recording artists, if he feels the material to be worthy of recording. At least one of his albums has charted on Billboard’s Country Albums chart, but Dale Watson’s focus is on making good music, not making the charts. Since I’ve never heard a bad Dale Watson album, I’d say his focus has been proper.

We hope you enjoy this month’s Spotlight Artist, Dale Watson.

Discography (since 1999)

People I’ve Known, Places I’ve Been 1999
Christmas in Texas 2000
Preachin’ to the Choir 2001
Every Song I Write Is for You 2001
Live in London…England 2002
One More, Once More 2003
Dreamland 2004
Heeah!! 2005
Whiskey or God 2006
Live at Newland, NL 2006
From the Cradle to the Grave 2007
The Little Darlin’ Sessions 2007
Help Your Lord 2008
To Terri with Love 2008
The Truckin’ Sessions Vol. 2 2009
Carryin’ On 2010
The Sun Sessions 2011
El Rancho Azul 2013
The Truckin’ Trilogy 2014
The Truckin’ Sessions, Vol. 3 2015
Call Me Insane 2015

Album Review: Dean Dillon – ‘I’ve Learned To Live’

i've learned to liveMost fans will know Dean Dillon as a fine songwriter, who cranks out hits for other artists. Unfortunately, this album will do nothing to dispel that notion. By the time this album came along in 1989, Dillon had already largely figured out his fate in life (although he still harbored some delusions of grandeur as a singer) and mostly had quit trying to save his best material for himself. I’ve Learned To Live consists largely of material he had not been able to pitch elsewhere. That is not to say that there aren’t some good songs here, just that the material with real hit potential had already been channeled to George Strait, Vern Gosdin and other top-shelf artists. That said, I really enjoyed this album, which I regard as his best solo effort.

The album opens up with “Just In Time” an up-tempo song co-written with Frank Dycus. There is some nice mandolin playing on the track by Randy Scruggs.

“Changes Comin’ On” is a slow ballad that probably is the best song on the album. Co-written with Jimmy Darrell and Buddy Cannon. Alabama and Gene Watson recorded this song on albums.

Well, I’m still hooked on Haggard
But the Beatles can’t come back like we hoped they would
In Memphis, Tennessee, King is gone
As I put my kids to bed, oh, I wonder what lies ahead for them to see
‘Cause I can feel the change comin’ on

I can feel changes comin’ on
People still are singin’ different songs
They’re searchin’ for the place where they belong
I can feel changes comin’ on

“Who Do You Think You Are”, co-written with Frank Dycus, is a nice ballad that would have made a good single for someone.

“Don’t You Even Think About Leaving” features the great Tanya Tucker duetting with Dean. The song is quick, sassy and well suited for a duet. Johnny Gimble plays fiddle as only he can.

“I’ve Learned To Live”, co-written with Frank Dycus, is a nice ballad that Shelby Lynne also recorded. Dean does a nice job with the song

Like a child lost in the wilderness I knew not where to go
Surrounded by the emptiness of a love that left me cold
I stumbled through the darkness of nights that have no stars
And days that have no sunshine to warm my naked heart

Like a bird in flight brought down by stones from an unknown assailant’s sling
A stranger took you from my arms and I lost everything
In days to come I nearly ran out of ways to stay alive
But through it all I never lost the will to survive

But I’m not over you and I doubt that I’ll ever be
So I’ve learned to live and you won’t be the death of me oh no
Yes I’ve learned to live and I’m doing well but I’m not over you

“It’s Love That Makes You Sexy” was one of two singles issued from the album. It’s not a bad song (actually the Dean Dillon / Frank Dycus pairing didn’t write any bad songs) but Dean just wasn’t a marketable singer. Despite Sonny Garrish’s nice steel guitar work, this one died at #61 in 1989.

The next single “Back In The Swing of Things” fared even worse, dying at #89 (it reached #70 on the Canadian Country charts). Dean’s version of the song really does swing – with Johnny Gimble on fiddle and Sonny Garrish on steel, how can it not swing? Co-writer Vern Gosdin also recorded the song on an album. The song really should have been a hit – I would rate it as the second best song on the album.

Hank Cochran collaborated with Dean on “Summer Was A Bummer”. It’s a nice song but nothing special.

“Her Thinkin’ I’m Doin’ Her Wrong” sounds like a country song from the 1965-1975 period with the steel guitar serving as the lead instrument with Johnny Gimble lending a few flourishes with his fiddle. Glenn Martin co-wrote this song and also wrote a bunch of hits for people like Charley Pride and Merle Haggard, either of whom would have had a hit on this song during their heydays.

Her thinkin’ I’m a doin’ her wrong
Ain’t a doin’ me right

The album closes with “Holdin’ Pattern, a nice ballad that Dean sings well.

Dean’s prior album Slick Nickel reeked of 1980s production values. In contrast, this album has more authentically country production with but slight traces of the sound that characterized the early 1980s. He has an ace fiddle player in Johnny Gimble, a superb steel player in Sonny Garrish, a multi-instrumental wizard in Randy Scruggs, and a solid second fiddler in Paul Anastasio. Unfortunately, if this album couldn’t produce any hits for Dean, it would seem unlikely that he could ever break through as an artist. I’d give this album a B+.

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘You Could Know As Much About A Stranger’

Album Review: Various Artists – ‘Constant Sorrow: Tribute To Ralph Stanley’

constant sorrowAn interesting selection of mainly country artists pay tribute to the legendary Ralph Stanley, in a project helmed by his grandson Nathan.

Stanley’s son Ralph II opens with the Celtic-sounding ‘Katy Daly’, II’s naturally melancholy tones counterpointing the upbeat tune about a 19th century moonshiner to enjoyable effect. Nathan takes on ‘A Robin Built A Nest On Daddy’s Garden’, which is also very good. Stanley’s old bandmate Ricky Skaggs sings the traditional ‘Gathering Flowers For The Master’s Bouquet’.

Jeff Bates sounds like a real bluegrass singer on ‘I Think I’ll Just Go Away’, a lovely old Stanley Brothers lost love tune. Lovely – I’d like to hear a full bluegrass album from Jeff. Rhonda Vincent is beautiful on ‘The Darkest Hour’, another highlight. My favourite track, though, is Vince Gill and Rebecca Lynn Howard duetting on an authentic and compelling murder ballad, ‘Pretty Polly’.

Insofar as Ralph Stanley has a signature song, I’d say it would be ‘O Death’, which he sang on the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou. The great Gene Watson offers a powerfully intense reading here. Marty Raybon gets the now-iconic ‘I Am A Man Of Constant Sorrow’, and does a nice job, partnered by Sonya Isaacs.

Southern gospel duo (and real life husband and wife) Jeff & Sheri Easter perform ‘Going Up Home To Live In Green Pastures’, and The Lewis Tradition (a spinoff from/second generation successor to Sheri’s mother’s family band the Lewis Family) offer a pleasant traditional four part harmony on ‘Dad’s Ole Rocky Field’.

Harmonica whiz Charlie McCoy gives a70s outlaw country-meets-bluegrass twist to ‘Little Maggie’, which works surprisingly well.

‘Room At The Top Of The Stairs’ is a haunting Randall Hylton song about a lonely woman who refuses to believe the protagonist can offer the love she longs for. I remember it fondly from Kieran Kane’s 1993 solo album Find My Way Home. I hadn’t been aware of Ralph Stanley’s version, and Jimmy Fortune’s take made a nice surprise.

This is a lovely tribute album: some great singers on excellent songs, with a tasteful bluegrass production backing them. I warmly recommend it.

Grade: A+

Spotlight Artist: Aaron Watson

aaron watson press
When Sirius XM Radio made the seriously misguided decision in May 2011 to merge WILLIE’S PLACE and THE ROADHOUSE into one channel, it deprived millions of listeners of easy access to the music of Aaron Watson. What resulted from the merger was a WILLIE’S ROADHOUSE, a classic country oldies station that airs a few specialty shows, portions of the Grand Ol’ Opry and otherwise plays the same few oldies over and again.

Although both WILLIE”S PLACE and THE ROADHOUSE were classic county stations, instead of just playing classic oldies, you could also find new material from veteran artists such as Johnny Bush, Ray Price, Darrell McCall, Tony Booth, Ray Sanders, Ferlin Husky and Curtis Potter . Moreover younger classic country, Texas and Western Swing and Red Dirt artists were frequently played – artists such as Amber Digby, Justin Trevino, Landon Dodd, Rance Norton and countless others, including this month’s featured artist Aaron Watson.

Aaron Watson was born in Amarillo Texas in 1977, but really didn’t get involved in the music trade until reaching his college years at Abilene Christian University, following a few years playing baseball in junior college. Before long Aaron was playing various gigs around Texas and had released a couple of albums on the Sonnet label, eventually coming to the attention of Ray Benson of Asleep At The Wheel fame. Ray produced Aaron’s third album The Honky Tonk Kid . The album features guest appearances by Asleep At The Wheel , Dale Watson and Willie Nelson.

From that point Watson’s career has moving forward at a steady clip. Aaron himself describes his career as “slow and steady; a long distance race and not a sprint”. Unlike many of the younger artists Aaron has been a prolific recording artist issuing an album per year. While his style has evolved over the years to become a little more radio-friendly and has cautiously embraced some ‘modernization’ of his sound, he is still unmistakably country and there are tracks on all of his albums that hark back to older sounds. Aaron tours frequently, although Texas and the southwestern United States see the vast majority of his appearances. He writes most of his own material and while his radio success has been limited nationally, in Texas he has had seven #1 records.

Aaron Watson has great musical sensitivities , a great band, writes great songs and has never made a bad record. Like Slim Whitman before him, Aaron eschews cheating songs and songs that denigrate others, preferring to stick to positive themes such as faith, country, family and love.

Aaron’s dad is a disabled Vietnam war veteran and Aaron is involved in veterans’ causes. He is a good family man and American citizen.

If you like fiddle and steel guitar, if you like George Strait’s earlier music, or if you like the music of his namesakes Gene Watson and Dale Watson, or if you simply like thoughtful county lyrics, then you should really like Aaron Watson.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce Aaron Watson as our February Artist of the Month

***

Aaron Watson Album Discography
Aaron Watson (1999, Sonnet Records)
A Texas Cafe’ (2001, Sonnet Records)
Shutupanddance (7/23/2002, Sonnet Records
The Honky Tonk Kid (3/30/2004, Sonnet Records)
Live From The Texas Hall of Fame (4/05/2005, Sonnet Records)
San Angelo (4/04/2006, Sonnet Records)charted #60 Billboard Country
Barbed Wire Halo (3/20/2007, Sonnet Records)
Angels & Outlaws (4/01/2008, Big Label Records) #28 Billboard Country / #4 Heat
Deep In The Heart of Texas: Aaron Watson Live (9/15/2009, Big Label Records) #47 Billboard Country / #24 Heat
The Road and The Rodeo (10/12/2010, Big Label Records) #25 Billboard Country / #4 Heat
Real Good Time (10/09/2012, Big Label Records) #9 Billboard Country
The Underdog scheduled for release 2/17/2015

Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2014

the way im livinIt’s not been the best of years for mainstream country music, but great music is still out there to be found if you’re willing to hunt it down. There was a plethora of great covers projects, including excellent offerings from Joey + Rory and Gene Watson, and a number of other fine records which just missed the cut in my top 10 selection.

10. Dave Adkins ‘Nothing To Lose
Classic high lonesome bluegrass from a singer with a big, emotional voice.
Best tracks: ‘I Can’t Even Walk’, ‘Don’t Pray That Way’, ‘Mistaken Heart

9. J P Harris & The Tough Choices – ‘Home Is Where The Hurt Is
Authentic retro honky tonk with some great songs.

Best tracks: ‘Home Is Where The Hurt Is’, ‘Truck Stop Amphetamines’, ‘Every Little Piece’

provoked8. Sunny Sweeney – ‘Provoked
Back on an independent label, Sunny Sweeney’s unbridled honky tonk with a modern twist is irresistible.

Best tracks: ‘You Don’t Know Your Husband’, ‘Backhanded Compliment’, ‘Sunday Dress

7. Fayssoux, ‘I Can’t Wait
A lovely mellow folk-country record.

Best tracks: ‘Mama’s Hungry Eyes’, ‘I Made A Friend Of A Flower Today’, ‘Golightly Creek’

6. Randy Travis – Influence Vol 2
The second instalment of Randy’s covers project, fortunately recorded before his recent health crisis was, unexpectedly, even better than the first one.

Best tracks: ‘Set ‘Em Up Joe’, ‘Are The Good Times Really Over’, ‘For The Good Times’

daylight and dark5. Jason Eady – ‘Daylight And Dark
Solid country music from a talented singer-songwriter I like more every tie I hear him. This was one of the year’s first releases, and it hasn’t lost its appeal for me.

Best tracks: ‘Whiskey And You’, ‘Liars And Fools’, ‘Late Night Diner

4. Rhonda Vincent – ‘Only Me
The bluegrass star offers a stellar selection of material. The packaging is a touch gimmicky, with two CDs in one packages, each containing just six tracks. One is billed as straight bluegrass, the other traditional country, but both are wonderful. My only criticism is that it would be nice to hear some new songs of this quality.

Best tracks: ‘I’d Rather Hear I Don’t Love You (Than Nothing At All)’, ‘Teardrops Over You’, ‘We Must Have Been Out Of Our Minds’ (ft Daryle Singletary), ‘Beneath Still Waters

3. Jade Jack – ‘Off The Record
I was very impressed by fiddler/traditional country singer Jade’s debut album. Very much in the style of Amber Digby, this is packed full of heartbreak numbers, backed with fiddle and steel. It just squeezes in ahead of Rhonda thanks to the inclusion of original material.

Best tracks: ‘I Can’t Help It If He Can’t Stop Loving Me’, ‘I Had A Husband’, ‘I Can Bring Him Back’, ‘I’m Dynamite’

lucky2. Suzy Bogguss – ‘Lucky
In a year which saw a lot of fine tribute and cover albums, this was the best of the lot. Suzy’s beautiful readings of Haggard songs are exquisite. This record is just lovely. The sensitive vocal interpretations are backed by delicately stripped down arrangements which shows that less is more.

Best tracks: ‘If We Make It Through December’, ‘Sing Me Back Home’, ‘You Don’t Have Very Far To Go’

1. Lee Ann Womack – ‘The Way I’m Livin
I was disappointed by Trisha Yearwood’s return, when she only recorded six new songs. But Lee Ann Womack did not disappoint, with that exquisite voice wrapped around 13 excellent songs. ‘Chances Are’, my favorite, is sublime. She sounds thoroughly revitalised by her move from the major labels and hankering after radio play to Sugar Hill’s focus on artistry. The result is magical.

Best tracks: ‘Chances Are’, ‘Nightwind’, ‘Sleeping With The Devil

Album Review: Larry Cordle & Lonesome Standard Time – ‘All Star Duets’

all star duetsOne of my favorite songwriters, Larry Cordle’s latest album has been a long time in the making. he has teamed up with a selection of stars to recreate some of his big hits as a songwriter in a tasteful bluegrass setting, backed by Larry’s bluegrass band Lonesome Standard Time and a few added guests. Recording sessions have taken place at intervals over the past decade, and the album was first announced for release a couple of years ago. But the wait was worth it, because this is a truly lovely record filled with great songs.

Alison Krauss recorded Cordle’s ‘Two Highways’ as a teenager; revisiting the song as a mature adult she brings a fuller vocal, and the result is shimmeringly lovely. It’s actually the oldest composition here, having been written in 1977 when the young Larry Cordle was stuck in a job he hated and dreaming of music. Ricky Skaggs was Cordle’s earliest big supporter, and his recording of ‘Highway 40 Blues’ (also written in the late 70s) was his breakthrough as a songwriter. Skaggs revisits the song (one of many great Cordle songs he has recorded over the years) here, playing his mandolin as well as sharing the vocals. Skaggs’ 1983 #1 hit version made Cordle a name to be reckoned with, and as he puts it in the liner notes, “changed his life”.

I was a bit dismissive of Garth Brooks’ recording of ‘Against The Grain’ when I reviewed ‘Ropin’ The Wind’ recently, but the breezier bluegrass version he guests on here is much more enjoyable, although it’s still one of my less favourite tracks here. Much better is the beautiful high lonesome ‘Lonesome Dove’, which like ‘Against The Grain’ was written with Carl Jackson. Trisha Yearwood, who recorded it on her debut album, and is at her glorious best singing it here.

Dierks Bentley is an engaging guest on a version of the wry ‘You Can’t Take It With You When You Go’, which was a single for the great Gene Watson towards the end of his major label career. It is one of Cordle’s many collaborations with his friend Larry Shell. They wrote several songs here, including the most recently written song, the modern classic ‘Murder On Music Row’, which seems more topical every year. The guest vocalists are minor 90s star Daryle Singletary and the very underrated Kevin Denney, both of whom were regarded as “too country” for country music. Daryle is one of the best traditional country singers out there, and I’ve long regretted that Denney hasn’t recorded again since his one and only album in 2002. They do a great, heartfelt job, on this version. It is, incidentally, unfortunate that Denney’s name is mis-spelled on the cover. The liner notes (also available digitally) are otherwise excellent and informative, with a little discussion of how each song was written and picked up for recording.

Diamond Rio contribute duet and harmony vocals on Cordle and Shell’s ‘Mama Don’t Forget To Pray For Me’, which was one of my favorite of the band’s hit songs, and is another real highlight here. The gently melancholy tune is perfect for the emotional yet stoic lyric about the strains of life on the road, and the arrangement is beautiful. Less well known, but a very beautiful song written by the pair which deserves to be known better is the wistful ‘The Fields of Home’, which Ricky Skaggs recorded on Kentucky Thunder in 1989, and which feels like a sequel to ‘Mama Don’t Forget To Pray For Me’. Kenny Chesney appears as the duet partner here, and does a superb job exuding understated regret; I really wish he would return to this style of music.

Bluegrass giant Del McCoury guests on the playful ‘The Bigger The Fool’ (The Harder The Fall)’, which Chesney recorded on his first album (when he was a neotraditional youngster and had not yet gained fame and fortune or discovered the beach). The charming tune is one of two co-writes with Jim Rushing, the other being ‘Lonesome Standard Time’, which gave its name to Cordle’s band. Kathy Mattea, who had a hit with it, duets with Cordle here.

He teamed up with two great female songwriters, Leslie Satcher and the veteran Melba Montgomery, to write ‘Cure For The Common Heartache’. Terri Clark recorded it in the late 90s, and sounds great duetting with Cordle – it’s much better than anything on her current solo release. Cordle wrote ‘Rough Around The Edges’ for Travis Tritt with J P Pennington and Les Taylor from country-rockers Exile; it sounds much better in this energised bluegrass version, featuring Tritt.

This is a superb album, collecting an excellent set of songs and performing them with taste and heart.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ’14 Karat Mind’

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent – ‘Your Money And My Good Looks’

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson and Rhonda Vincent – ‘Staying Together’

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘In a Perfect World’

perfectworldI’m not sure whether I’d call Shanachie a major label or not – it certainly is one of the big three when it comes to Irish/Celtic music, but however you chose to characterize the label, this album, produced by Brent Rowan, found itself issued on Shanachie, one of two Watson albums released on this particular label.

By the time this album was released in 2007, Gene had been bouncing from label to label for a decade since leaving Step One Records. In fact much of the output of the period (1998-2007) consisted of Gusto reissues of material taken from Step One albums and other material released on independent labels such as Broadlands.

Unlike previous albums, which never saw Watson other than as a solo vocalist, Watson entered new territory, recording six songs featuring guest artists (mostly as harmony vocalists rather than true duets) out of the eleven songs on the album. Also unlike recent albums, this album does not contain remakes of earlier Gene Watson hits, focusing instead on some old classic country songs, with some newer material mixed in.

While this album could never be described as innovative (a value-neutral term as innovation can be bad) or cutting edge, it is yet another example of a master craftsman applying his talents to a terrific set of songs.

The album opens with the old Hank Cochran classic “Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me”. Released during the 1960s this recording would have been a major hit. This song is followed by Vince Gill harmonizing with Gene on the Harlan Howard’s “Let Me Be The First To Go”, a song initially recorded by the great Wynn Stewart. This song is a tearjerker in which Watson asks God to call him home first as he couldn’t handle life without his wife. Aubrey Haynie’s fiddle and Sonny Garrish’s steel guitar really standout on this track

“What Was I Thinking” follows next – this was not the Dierks Bentley hit of a few years earlier but a Skip Ewing ballad lamenting the breakup of a relationship.

“Today I Started Loving You Again” is one of Merle Haggard’s most famous songs, even though it was never a hit for the Hag (it was the B-side of “The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde”) although Sammi Smith had a minor hit with it. The song has been recorded many times, but never better than this version which features Lee Ann Womack’s harmony vocals, especially noteworthy on the repeat chorus.

Harley Allen and Tim Mensy penned the title track “In A Perfect World” , a song of a man who has reached bottom and is imagining life as it could be, not as it really turned out to be. Joe Nichols harmony vocals provide the proper shading for this very desolate song:


In A Perfect World It Never Rains on Saturday
In A Perfect World I Wouldn’t Hate The Holidays
I’d Sleep Just Like A Baby and Have One Down The Hall
You’d Still Be My Girl, In A Perfect World

Tim Mensy also contributed “She’s Already Gone” and “This Side of he Door” (co-written with Shawn Camp). “She’s Already Gone” is just another good song about a relationship that is already dead except for someone actually leaving, but “This Side of The Door is really good. Guest vocalist Mark Chesnutt has some solo lines on this song, which Chesnutt originally recorded on his What a Way to Live album released in 2004. This songs rocks a little harder than is customary for Gene.

It is hard to image that “Together Again” was the B-Side of “My Heart Skips A Beat” for Buck Owens never wrote a better song. Buck’s A-side spent seven weeks at #1 but so many DJs flipped the record that the B-side also spent two weeks at #1. Rhonda Vincent guest on this song, the only true duet on the album, an a harbinger of more collaborations to come. In my opinion, this is the standout track on the album.

Another Tim Mensy song “I Buried Our Love” was released as a single although I never heard it played on the radio. It has a strong lyric and should have received at least some airplay.

Connie Smith is one of the few country singers on a par with Watson in terms of being a master vocalist. I think this song was first recorded by Point of Grace but I doubt that many would consider this rendition in any way inferior to the original. I would like for Connie’s voice to have been more prominently featured.

The album closes with yet another Tim Mensy song, “Like I Wasn’t Even There”. This song sounds more like the stuff currently played on the radio (only sung better) than like classic country. The storyline of this ballad is one of a man encountering his ex and seeing her behave as if he didn’t exist.

Reaction to this album at the time of its release varied although all reviewers considered it a good collection of songs sung by an excellent singer, while docking it stars for not pushing the boundaries of the genre. In my humble opinion when an album is this good, I don’t care whether or not it breaks new ground.

From this point forward Gene would feature more duets – his next Shanachie album would feature actual duets with Trace Adkins and Rhonda Vincent and Alison Krauss providing harmony vocals on a track.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘The Great Divide’

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘The Jukebox Played Along’

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘Carmen’

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘Memories To Burn’

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Uncharted Mind’

unchartedmind1990’s At Last was Gene Watson’s major label swan song but it was by no means the end of his recording career. After leaving the Warner Bros. roster, he continued to release music on a variety of independent labels, beginning with 1992’s In Other Words on the Broadland label. The following year’s Uncharted Mind was the first of four albums released on the Step One label.

Produced by Ray Pennington, Uncharted Mind finds Gene including some more contemporary-soundings songs with the usual traditional fare, with varying degrees of success. The opening track “Glass Hearts” is a pleasant number that was in the realm of what was considered mainstream at the time. Released by a younger artist on a bigger label, it might have been a hit. “Snake In The House”, however, doesn’t work quite as well. It is somewhat of a stylistic departure for Watson and sounds like something that might have been released a decade earlier during the Urban Cowboy era — ironically, a period in which Watson was one of the few holdouts still recording tradtional country. It is arguably the album’s biggest dud. The other contender for that dubious honor is “Simple Minded Heart”, a sickeningly sweet pop-country number that sounds like something Doug Stone turned down and has little to recommend it, despite being co-written by Mel Tillis. It is certainly one of his — and Watson’s — poorer efforts.

Fortunately the rest of the album is much better. Among the highlights is a majestic cover of the Marty Robbins classic “You Gave Me A Mountain”, whch Watson had previously recorded for 1975’s Paper Rosie. His vocal peformance on the 1993 re-recording is every bit as impressive as it had been almost two decades earlier, but I slightly prefer the production on the 1975 version. The meat and potatoes of the album, however, are the more traditional numbers, which were always Watson’s strong point. The toe-tapper “Back In Texas” is a particular favorite of mine, as is Sanger D. Shaffer’s “Cool Ole Fool”, a light-hearted number about someone who is arguably going through midlife crisis. Curt Ryle, Mel Tillis’ co-writer on “Simple Minded Heart” redeems himself with the more traditional and much better “Mirrors Don’t Lie”, on which Gene turns in another stellar vocal performance.

Independent releases weren’t always easy to find in record stores (remember those?) in 1993, so many fans may have missed out on Uncharted Mind when it was first released. If you are one of those people, pick up a cheap used copy. The album is a little more uneven than some of Watson’s earlier efforts, but it still has much to recommend it.

Grade: B+

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘You’re Out Doing What I’m Here Doing Without’

Album Review: Gene Watson – ‘Honky Tonk Crazy’

honky tonk crazyOne of the ironies of the rise of the neotraditional movement in the late 1980s was that it swept away some of the old guard who had been keeping more traditional sounds alive on country radio. Gene Watson was one of the casualties. His last album for Epic, produced by Billy Sherrill, was an excellent effort which deserved to do much better than it did.

The title track is a smooth confessional from a man who warns off a woman who is getting a little too close:

I’ve always been honky tonk crazy
I’m someone that’s best left alone
Cause when I get honky tonk crazy
I only feel right doing wrong

I’ll take you and make you love smokey old bars
Cheap whiskey and a sad country song
Till there’s nothing left of the lady you are
And then like your pride I’ll be gone

Lovely steel guitar and fiddle, and Gene’s seductive vocal makes the prospect seem more inviting than it should. The song, written by the legendary Harlan Howard with Ron Peterson, was also recorded by Keith Whitley (and is available on the posthumous Sad Songs & Waltzes). Gene’s version disappointingly failed to creep into the top 40 on the Billboard country chart.

The second and last single did a little better, reaching #28. The funky ‘Everybody Needs A Hero’ (written by Max D. Barnes and Troy Seals) is a Georgia boy’s reminiscence of a somewhat disreputable childhood hero. The implication is that he is actually the kid’s father or grandfather:

My mama says I turned out just like him
She worries and prays that I’ll change
I didn’t know until a few days ago
Why he sent me his gold watch and chain

‘I Didn’t Think Of You At All’ is a classic Gene Watson heartbreak ballad, with perfect phrasing conveying the emotional devastation of a man desperately trying not to let it show. Gene squeezes out every drop of emotion while never oversinging it. Equally broken is the protagonist of ‘Ashes To Ashes’:

I tried everything, even drowning your memory in booze
So I finally decided to lie down and die with the pain
Oh, but my heart kept on beating and softly repeating your name

When they lay me away the last words they’ll speak
Here lies a man that don’t rest in peace

God gave me your love and God knows I threw it away
What I put you through is the same hell I’m living today
Now praying don’t help so dying’s the best I can do

In similar heartbreak vein is a revival of a country classic, ‘You took Her Off My Hands’, one of Harlan Howard’s earliest compositions (with Wynn Stewart and Skeets McDonald) whose best known recording is that by Ray Price; Patsy Cline also recorded a version under the title ‘You Took Him Off My Hands’. Gene’s interpretation is superlative.

‘Getting Used To Being Loved Again’ is a gently vulnerable ballad expressing the wonder of finding new love at last. ‘I Always Get It Right With You is a warm, tender love song.

‘When She Touches Me’ features a former Casanova who has been felled by falling in love with one of his conquests.

‘Nobody’s Baby Tonight’ is a sympathetic song about a fragile woman whose man has recently left her and is so lonely she resorts to picking up a man in a bar.

The pacey ‘Her Heart Or Mine’ tackles a relationship which has run out of steam, but there is no way of avoiding hurting one or the other:

There’s no way I can make both of us happy
I don’t know if I should break her heart or mine

After this album failed to maintain Gene’s commercial status, he left the label for a period in the wilderness. He enjoyed a brief resurgence when he signed to Warner Bros, recording two excellent albums for that label, Back In The Fire which I included in our retrospective look at he Class of ’89, and At Last. But linking up with new labelmate Randy Travis’s manager (and later wife) Lib Hatcher turned out to be a bad move, and legal wrangles coincided with the end of his major label career. The 90s saw Gene recording for a succession of minor labels, many of which have gone out of business, making the music he made there hard to come by.

This is a wonderful, underrated album from an artist at the peak of his vocal prowess, which deserve to be better known. Unfortunately it has not yet been re-released, and only rather expensive used copies seem to be out there at present. If you do come across a copy, it’s well worth it.

Grade: A

Classic Rewind: Gene Watson – ‘What She Don’t Know Won’t Kill Her’

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