My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: The Lone Stars

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-

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

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