Angels & Outlaws continues and amplifies the more reflective mood of Aaron Watson's previous album, San Angelo, as opposed to the honky tonk swing of his first several releases. The title is indicative, because Watson's Christian themes have grown to command an ever larger place in his music, and he spends considerably more time singing about the former than the latter here. Even the threatening hook of album opener "Tulsa" ("Don't let the sun go down on you in Tulsa") is delivered not to a romantic rival, but to someone Watson feels is shirking his God-given duties as a husband and father. It's not exactly Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother," y'know? Although the album is produced, as always, by Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson, the honky tonk and Western swing vibe of earlier albums like The Honky Tonk Kid and Shutupanddance is similarly dialed back here in favor of comparatively limp, midtempo country-pop like "Whiskey on the Fire." Even the speedy, fiddle-driven "Wake Up and Smell the Coffee" doesn't really swing, and its cringingly awful lyrics don't help its case much. Suffice to say, when a cover of John Mayer's "Heart of Life" is one of the most heartfelt and soulful songs on the album, it seems Watson might be starting to lose the plot. Big bonus points for getting the cantankerous outlaw country legend Billy Joe Shaver to record a verse of Philippians, though.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason
feat: Billy Joe Shaver