Review: Dale Watson – The Sun Sessions (Red House, 2011)
Dale Watson hasn’t exactly kept his musical debt to Johnny Cash a secret, but just how thoroughly he’s absorbed Cash’s roots has never been more apparent than on this new release. Recording in a trio (with “the Texas Two”), Watson’s baritone and tic-tac guitar, Chris Crepps’ upright bass and Mike Bernal’s snare drum are warmed by Sun’s famous acoustics and slapback echo. The fourteen original songs tip their hat more than once to Cash’s early works, but at the same time they stay true to Watson’s honky-tonk roots. He writes of loving, longing, losing, traveling and faith, and he sketches friends and acquaintances with a keen eye. Watson rides Cash’s train rhythm for a trip through Sweden to the country music hotbed of Gothenburg, and revisits Cash’s “Get Rhythm” with the Texas shoeshine man “Big Daddy.” The sessions have a vitality that’s lost in the bits-and-pieces method of modern studios, and the few muffed notes are quickly forgotten as the guitar twangs, the snare drum shuffles and the acoustic bass thumps out its rich tone. In lesser hands this homage to Cash ’55 might have sounded gimmicky, but Watson long ago established his country music bona fides, and as Steve Legett points out, this isn’t an homage to Sun records, it is a Sun record, and a good one at that. It’s also one of the most entertaining records in Watson’s already rich catalog. Highly recommended to fans of Watson, Cash and Sun.