Dale Watson

The Best of the Hightone Years

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It might deem strange to place country singer and songwriter Dale Watson in the context of contemporary country. Surely, Watson is more than the spiritual heir of Merle and Buck -- his music has all the dim lights and beer mugs of the best honky tonk. This compilation creams the best work of his three Hightone discs, all of which sound as if they should have been recorded in the '50s or '60s rather than the '90s; if there ever was a man out of time, it's Dale Watson. He can write some classic cheating songs like "Caught" and truckers' anthems such as "Hey Driver" and "Truckstop in La Grange" (which might be the only song to celebrate La Grange, KY, and romanticize I-71), and condemn modern country on "Nashville Rash," which also pays tribute to his heroes. His deep voice and style (which can easily become a sing-speak) owe plenty to Merle Haggard and a little to George Jones, while his players, including the great Jerry Donahue, can twang like there's no tomorrow. That said, the only place where it comes unstuck is on "Blessed or Damned," which tries to step outside the musical and lyrical boundaries where he is comfortable. This is also the place, amid all of these others, that Watson appeals -- at least on CMT and GAC -- to listeners of the more pop-oriented country music of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Truth is, they still appreciate the real thing, especially when it's played by a guitar-slingin' no-nonsense redneck son of a gun. Watson's penchant for stripped-down rockabilly riffs -- even if they do come by way of Bakersfield -- are still rock & roll roots music. So, if you think honky tonk died when Jones and Hag fell off the charts, or appreciate hard, beer-drinking, hell-raising music, then you need this, quite simply. It's not alt-country or neo-traditionalist country (whatever those things are); it's nothing but dyed-in-the-wool heartbreak diesel, although you need to bring your own beer to cry into. If you get a hankering for that classic country sound, placed in a contemporary context of American music (Watson calls it "Ameripolitan"), then Dale Watson's your man.

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