Dale Watson

Carryin' On

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Dale Watson doesn’t fit well into the formula that makes contemporary country radio what it is, and he doesn’t fit well into contemporary country, period. There’s no trace of pop or rock in his approach, and since his recording debut in 1995, he’s always been closer in sound to classic country artists like Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Ray Price than he is to the Kenny Chesneys and Jason Aldeans that pass for country in the 21st century. It’s no accident -- Watson has been very vocal about his views that country has lost its identity in the past couple of decades and that what passes for country these days is just so much stylized bubblegum. And he puts his money where his mouth is, writing songs that seem comfortably wise and timeless, without any trace of contemporary hip glibness, and then tracks them with traditional country instrumentation. The end result sounds old but with all the sonic fullness of a contemporary recording. His latest album, Carryin’ On, is no exception, although for this outing, Watson has abandoned analog equipment for the first time and gone digital, but no worries, Carryin’ On sounds exactly like a Dale Watson record, thanks in part to the presence of Nashville session veterans Lloyd Green on steel guitar, Hargus "Pig" Robbins on piano, and Pete Wade on guitar. The opener, “Carryin’ On This Way,” is an old country gem, sounding a bit like a refurbished “Gentle On My Mind” in approach and flow, while “How to Break Your Own Heart” is a honky tonk ballad that one would swear had been around forever. If Watson has a flaw, it’s that he does rail on too much at times at the new country establishment in his songs, but he keeps that to a minimum here, and only the closer, “Hello, I’m an Old Country Song,” really strays into that territory. All in all, this is one of Watson’s finest albums. Just don’t expect to hear much of it on the radio.

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