Vintage Bakersfield country from his silver pompadour down to his rhinestones, you might think the deep-voiced Alabama-born Watson (who looks like he could be Billy Bob Thornton’s younger brother) was being ironic were it not for the fact he walks the walk as well as talks the talk. Which may be why his brand of what he terms Ameripolitan is embraced by alt-country fans as well as die-hard Texan honky-tonkers and truckers. This is his 26th studio album in 20 years (one of which was actually called Heeah!!), recorded with his regular touring band, The Lone Stars, and guest contributions from the legendary Lloyd Maines (who also produces) and brass trio The Honky Tonk Horns.
There’s less of the trucking this time round (four of his albums have the word Truckin’ in their title), but this is still a shoot from the hip bundle of classic Texas and Outlaw country in the grand tradition of Cash, Jennings and Jones. Indeed, driven by upright bass, twangy guitar and plinkety piano, ‘Jonesin’ For Jones’ is a tribute to George’s music while ‘Mamas Don’t Let Your Cowboys Grow Up To Be Babies’ is Tony Joe White’s lyrically playful riposte to the classic Waylon and Willie hit and album opener ‘A Day At A Time’ could easily have been lifted from the early JC albums.
As per the genre, there’s a good balance of honky-tonk ballads and uptempo romps, the latter well-represented by the Western Swing styled ‘Bug Ya For Love’, the mariachi flavours of ‘Tienes Cabeza de Palo’, the jaunty ‘Everybody’s Somebody In Luchenbach Texas’ and ‘Heaven’s Gonna Have A Honky Tonk’ which sounds like something Kristofferson might have written had Waylon been his dad. And you don’t need me to tell you that something called ‘Hot Dang’ is going to be a good time twangy country boogie.
If push comes to shove, however, I’d have to cast my vote for his slower numbers, most particularly the acoustic honky tonk waltzing weepie ‘Crocodile Tears’, complete with a classic tradition spoken passage, the moodily twangsome vocally soaring title track and ‘Forever Valentine’, something I could imagine Elvis having sung. However, the most powerful track has to be ‘Burden Of The Cross’, a musically brooding trucker’s lament about a hand-built cross on the highway that marks the site of a fatal accident, specifically that of his fiancée Terri Herbert in 2000. Having lost Johnny, Waylon and George, Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, who’ve just collaborated on ‘Django and Jimmie’, are the last surviving legends of classic old school country music; it’s good to know that there are artists like Watson out there to keep the flame burning.
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Artist’s website: http://www.dalewatson.com/
‘Jonesin’ For Jones’ live: