Dale Watson: From cryin’ time to giddy in love, never less than authentic

Keeping It Real (Country)
By David McGee

Dale Watson
E1 Entertainment

Poor Dale Watson. Determined to be a little less retro than in the past, he ventured into a Nashville studio with some stalwart session players—we’re talking heavyweights on the order of piano master Hargus “Pig” Robbins, guitarist Pete Wade, Glenn Duncan on fiddle, bass man Dennis Crouch, Lloyd Green on pedal steel, Gene Chrisman on drums and the silky voiced Carol Lee Singers on background vocals—and emerges with the thoroughly delightful, eminently fulfilling Carryin’ On, which sounds like nothing so much as the finest mainstream country of the ‘60s, particularly if you remember some of Merle Haggard’s or Porter Wagoner’s albums from that period. Kind of like the jetliner in the classic Twilight Zone episode, "The Odyssey of Flight 33," Watson slipped through a seam in time, but not far enough to get back to 2010. He's not lost and searching, though; he's truly happy to be here.

Sometimes the results of his time travel are beautiful beyond all reason—love songs rarely come more heartfelt than the sensitive ballad “You’re Always On My Mind,” with Robbins’s piano and the Carol Lee Singers adding the smidgen of earnest emotion that lifts the whole exercise onto another plane, even before Green’s swooning pedal steel and Duncan’s moaning fiddle lay on the necessary yearning filigree, all in service, of course, to one of the most measured, sincere messages Watson’s sturdy baritone has ever delivered. Similarly, love having arrived and settled in is celebrated in unequivocal terms in the dapper, fiddle-fired two-step, “Ain’t That Livin’,” a sensible reflection on the nuances of a relationship—“there’s a lot of ups and downs in the middle, but it’s the ups and downs that make life fun”—Watson chronicles with something approaching measured glee (“maybe not too excitin’, but baby it’s sure enough”) over his good fortune in sharing his days with a special significant other. But as Elvis once sang, “true love travels on a gravel road,” and Watson, who can bring the pain as well as prime-time Hag did, doesn’t ignore the troubled side of the romantic equation: with Robbins’ showering the track with Floyd Cramer-like slip notes—which in and of themselves are heartache incarnate—Watson shuffles through “How To Break Your Own Heart,” a monologue on the abject despair that is the waste product of a failed romance; and in one of the most surprising turnarounds on the disc, the lilting, easygoing “Your Love I’m Gonna Miss,” sounding for all the world like a lost Roger Miller track, finds Watson first enumerating his woman’s singular daily rituals of preparing for the world as he falls in love with her all over again, only to arrive, by the end of the song, at those rituals being but searing memories in the wake of her leavinghim for good. It cuts like a knife.

And never fear, fans of the drinkin’ song: with a big assist from Green’s woozy pedal steel lines and Robbins’s honky tonk piano, Watson staggers through “Hey Brown Bottle,” a request to a certain beverage to help him survive romantic misadventures (“hey brown bottle with the little blue label/won’t you help me turn the table/of love gone awry/and make me feel alright”—and when was the last time you heard anyone anywhere insinuate “awry” into a lyric so seamlessly?) Fans of Watson’s hard-edged honky tonk of years past may wonder if the artist has gone soft, but be ye not alarmed: Carryin’ On is a beautiful, sincere, uplifting record—even when it’s cryin’ time again—and proof positive that the classic country music templates have something going for them in the way of speaking to our most substantive emotions with a depth today’s hit mainstream simply cannot match.

Dale Watson’s Carryin’ On is available at www.amazon.com

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
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