Dale Watson is a man with no country. He believes that country music has been so homogenized and transmogrified that he wants nothing to do with it. He’s invented his own name for the genre formerly known as classic county — Ameripolitan, which he defines as “original music with prominent roots influence.”
He’s been notoriously prickly about what comes out of Nashville these days calling itself country. “It’s like a relative,” he says, “someone you love that’s addicted to heroin, they’re just killing themselves, and you’ve got to sit there and watch it.” And when Blake Shelton told a GAC interviewer in 2013 that “nobody wants to listen to their grandpa’s music,” it lit a bonfire under Watson. Shelton added to the conflagration by going on to say that “I don’t care how many of these old farts around Nashville going, ‘My God, that ain’t country!’ That’s because you don’t buy records anymore, jackass. The kids do, and they don’t want to buy the music you were buying.”
Watson, who was touring in Europe when he heard Blake’s comments, responded as soon as he could get to a studio in Holland. With the famous poster of Johnny Cash flipping the bird to the camera as a backdrop in the studio, Watson replied with “I’d Rather Be An Old Fart Than A New Country Turd,” which includes the lyric “I know I ain’t book smart / but from what I heard, / I’m just a jackass that likes the ole country sound.”
Recorded at Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis, Watson’s latest, Call Me Lucky, doesn’t contain any protest songs. It’s just vintage Watson, making the old-school style sound relevant and worthy of purchase from fans of all ages. The title cut sounds like Dwight Yoakam channeling Buck Owens, complete with an earful of Watson’s clangy Bakersfield guitar. Not only is Watson’s message and style old school, his cuts are as well, adhering to the old vinyl 45 rpm format timing of three minutes or less to deliver your message and get out.
Watson’s shows are interactive affairs: He often composes songs on stage inspired by shouted-out hints or overheard conversations. That was the case on “Inside View,” when he overheard two women at the side of the stage giggling and yelling about an inside view. Watson created it as a honky-tonk shuffle with horns, breaking things up instrumentally with a pickup-load of rattly guitar smoothed out a bit with Don Pawlak’s pedal steel.
“Mama’s Style” sounds like Johnny Cash in his heyday, plodding along with the Tennessee Three on a tune that sounds like it was penned by Merle.
“Who Needs This Man” is pure Watson, bar-band honky-tonk at its finest, hoot’n’holler Lone Star-chuggin’ material that finds Watson perusing the want ads for a loved one-to-be. “I like beer but I don’t like pot,” Watson confesses, telling his newfound darlin’ that “I like music but I can’t dance,” describing himself as old-school, just wanting to hold her hand.
Watson goes back to Cash territory on the “Dumb Song,” adding some old-school royalty treatment with Carl Perkins’ drummer W.C. Holland keeping it clicking down the Tennessee Three soundtrack.
“Johnny and June” revisits Cash one more time with a duet featuring Celine Lee as June on a spot-on impersonation of the original subjects’ intimate family style harmony.
Set in Elvis’ birthplace, “Tupelo Mississippi & A ’57 Fairlane” pays homage to the King’s rockabilly days, Watson rockin’ smoothly in grand retrobilly style.
Hank Williams III once called Watson the Merle Haggard of today, but Watson dismissed that praise gracefully and with characteristic candor, replying that “Merle’s the Merle Haggard of today. I’m just carrying on a tradition that Merle has set.” He carries on that tradition masterfully on “Haul Off and Do It,” sounding like Merle wrote and sung it.
It’s Watson doing what he does best, shaking the dust off his roots while leaving them firmly planted in the Texas soil they sprang from.