vinyl single/digital download
The great Ameripolitan singer/songwriter/guitarist Dale Watson was a superb practitioner of, and an outspoken ambassador for, real country music long before the 1995 release of his first Hightone album. In the years since, his relentless touring and recording schedule (with two full-length CDs, El Rancho Azul and Dalevis: Sun Sessions 2, already out in 2013) have won him fans the world over. In fact, “Old Fart (A Song For Blake),” Watson’s spirited rejoinder (also released this year) to the ill-informed and disrespectful comments about traditional country music and its audience made by Blake Shelton, caught the ear of at least one high-profile listener: David Letterman, who invited Watson to appear on The Late Show in June.
It never pays to sleep on a Dale Watson release. The Austin, Texas-based artist will always tell you exactly what is on his mind, no matter if that is heartbreakingly personal or a sincerely flippant flip-off, and whether he is working in a carefully crafted concept album–he’s built records around, for instance, trucking songs; people and places on the road; love songs for his late fiancée; Johnny Paycheck compositions; and original spirituals, to cite a few–or dropping a quickly written and recorded single, like “Song For Blake” or “Tiger Airways And Their We Don’t Care-Ways.” The prolific Watson is back with yet another project you should hear: The brand new iF yoU, a six-song suite that, at just over 11 minutes playing time, pretty much covers both ends of the emotional spectrum, and everything in between, in prime Watson style.
Watson knows the line between love and hate, as the Persuaders sang, is thin indeed, and he wisely tempers the venom of these breakup songs with humor. The title track, iF yoU, obviously riffs on the play on words highlighted by the irregular capitalization. It’s an uptempo number, with Dale and his female counterpart Sarah Gayle Meech sparring in classic country duet style, beginning their lines with the not-so-veiled insult: “iF yoU were the last person in this world, it wouldn’t work.” Over the fade, they argue over the common complaints of close living: snoring, sharing razors and toilet seat positioning.
A pentatonic-scale guitar figure that quotes the music of old black-and-white “oriental” films opens the roots-rocking “Sayonara Sucka,” in which Watson’s Tokyo baby drops him via a letter. In just over a minute, he is able to pack the song with references to sake, kamikazes, and hara-kiri–clichéd perhaps, but right in tune with the genre (“Fujiyama Mama,” anyone?). I hear at least an oblique nod to Buck Owens’s “Made In Japan.” The next cut, “I’ll See Ya Never,” is squarely in the mode of Elvis’s early RCA sides, with a structure that owes a debt to “Heartbreak Hotel,” backing vocals à la the Jordanaires, and Floyd Cramer-esque piano. Watson’s vocal, sweet and gritty by turns, fits the sound beautifully as he delivers his farewell with finality. “I’m So Done With You,” a rollicking number done purely in the style of Johnny Cash’s “Big River,” could have come from Watson’s first Sun Sessions album. Watson’s vocal bends evoke the great singer, while the bass-string runs on his electric guitar recall Luther Perkins’s indelible parts.
An upbeat country shuffle marked by wiry blues guitar, “Adios” incorporates German, Italian, and Spanish phrases for good-bye in Watson’s hearty vocal. The mini-album closes with another fast rocker, “Don’t Let The Screen Door Hit Ya,” another excellent track that makes equal use of colloquialisms and newly-minted images (“You might smell fresh-brewed coffee/But it’s just you wakin’ up for the first time in your life”) in its kiss-off message. Strong piano and electric guitar and a memorable snare drum figure make this cook.
Good-byes have long served as subject matter central to virtually all forms of popular music, and country music is certainly no stranger to the break-up song. But that particular well is bottomless: just as lovers meet every day, so do hearts continue to be broken. When Dale Watson, one of our most observant and trenchant songwriters, turns his attention to the subject, it rewards us to listen. And, at less than $7 U.S. for the vinyl album (and under $6 for the digital version), iF yoU–a slight, yet superb, set–is a bargain.
I bought this record from Dale Watson’s online store (link above).