Tuesday, July 28, 2015

It's Not All Parties and Drinking Anymore

Category:  Album Review

At a concert in 2013 Dale Watson joked about the subject matter of the songs on his album El Rancho Azul by saying, "Let's see, there's drinking...and then (pause) there's drinking, and then...(another pause) drinking!"  People who are expecting more drinking and dancing along the lines of the favorites "I Lie When I Drink" and "Quick Quick, Slow Slow" won't find them on Watson's sterling new album Call Me Insane, but they won't be disappointed.  Watson has moved into a new level of songwriting while maintaining the hardcore traditional country music sound that makes him popular with the people who are sick of the pop, rock, and rap being presented as "country music" today.

Dale Watson's insightful new album, Call Me Insane
Cover Courtesy of Ameripolitan/Red House Records
Watson and his knockout band, the Lone Stars, keep the music country Ameripolitan (Watson is through with the word "country" after what Nashville has done to the term; and, based on comments hurled at his friend Amber Digby by fans thinking her straight-ahead country music is something other than country, who can blame him?), while the themes are adult and frequently gut-punching powerful.  Oh, sure, there's the obligatory "fun" songs ("Heaven's Gonna Have a Honky Tonk" and the play on the Waylon song title "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," "Mamas, Don't Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to Be Babies" ["let 'em drink that Lone Star Beer"]) because country music has always had an element of fun.  Watson will happily remind you of the motto of Luckenbach, Texas in the song "Everybody's Somebody in Luckenbach, Texas." 

One of the best songs on the album is the bouncy "Bug Ya for Love," co-written with bassist Chris Crepps.  The song, with its Western swing feel, is an upbeat, innocent number about a man who promises he's going to do his best to become a single girl's steady beau.  Watson recently said at a concert that one critic misinterpreted the song, declaring it to be about stalking someone.  It's hard to take this happy song that way, however, unless someone has their mind deeply in the gutter.  Another highlight is "I'm Through Hurtin'," about a man who's finally over a failed relationship and promises that, with his new outlook ("an old leaf I'm burning, a new leaf I'm turning"), "I'll paint the town tonight, what color do you like?"

The ballads, however, make Call Me Insane one of the best albums in Watson's discography.  The title track, with its reminiscence of Waylon, is about a man who keeps going back for love even though he knows he's going to be hurt time and time again ("there's still hope in my heart, but that part is never smart 'cause it still ends the same"), pondering, "Is my destiny this insanity?"  "Crocodile Tears" shows a man who tires of the repeated false emotions his love emits.

The best thing on this album, and easily one of the best songs of 2015 thus far, is "The Burden of the Cross."  The song is deeply autobiographical, about Watson taking a nocturnal visit to the site on a Texas highway where his fiancee died in a car wreck to replace the memorial cross that was removed when the highway was widened.  "They don't understand a man's need to see his loss," Watson sings, "and the symbol that it carries: the burden of the cross."  The song will bring a lump to your throat, and you'll never look at those crosses on the side of the highway the same way again.

Watson just finished a five-week tour in support of the album on the east coast and in the Midwest.  He's scheduled to hit the west coast in September.  Don't miss him live, and don't miss this album.

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