Gene Watson

Then & Now

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Soulful South Texas honky tonk singer Gene Watson never seemed to take his career all that seriously -- even through his period of greatest success, when he was having a string of hit singles in the early '80s, he kept his day job as an auto body repairman -- but since the early '70s, he's recorded more than his share of minor country classics. On his first album for Koch, a label that specializes in reviving the careers of faded old-school country singers, Watson has chosen 13 of his favorite songs to revisit. The results are impressive; rather than being a cynical "updating" of old hits with inappropriately modern production and arrangements, as so many country singers have done over the decades, Then & Now doesn't focus on Watson's best-known old songs. There's no "Love in the Hot Afternoon" or "Fourteen-Carat Mind" here, but every song Watson picked out is a gem. Producing the sessions himself and surrounding his weathered but not faded voice with a small group of traditional country musicians, Watson has created a timeless-sounding, largely acoustic set of tunes that could have been recorded at any point in the preceding 50 years of country music. Old-school gems like "If I'm a Fool for Leaving" (from the pen of Little Jimmy Dickens) sit next to more modern fare such as "You Could Know as Much," which someone like Travis Tritt could take into the charts tomorrow. An unpretentious, easygoing set of favorites, Then & Now is primarily for Watson's longtime fans, but those averse to the overly slick production of Urban Cowboy-era Nashville, which often marred Watson's older albums, will also appreciate hearing these songs in a more sympathetic setting.

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