Dale Watson has been going his own way for twenty years now, cutting albums full of sawdust-soaked honky-tonk. Watson started out as a hell-raiser, distilling the Bakersfield sound of Haggard and Owens down into a throat-scorching brew as powerful as white lightnin’. He’s mellowed a bit over the years, and while his vocals still hint at Haggard’s grit, his mellow baritone has settled into its own somber groove. Watson’s still hanging out in the barrooms and honky tonks, trying to come to terms with his latest rejection. Dry humor keeps his songs of loss and self-destruction from getting too mawkish.
The folk pop of “Carryin’ On This Way” brings John Hartford to mind. It’s a simple melody supported by some fine fiddling, and a lyric that berates a hard drinkin’ boy for his lack of self-awareness, without sounding preachy. “I’ll Show Ya” is a tongue-twisting bluegrass rap that celebrates the good times, while showing off the chops of steel player Lloyd Green and guitarist Pete Wade. Watson channels George Jones on “How to Break Your Own Heart” and “Don’t Wanna Go Home Song,” waltzes that are musically upbeat and emotionally desolate. “Hello, I’m an Old Country Song” ends the album on a suitably downbeat note. It’s a complaint about the lack of substance in today’s country music. The conceit can often sound self-serving and overly sentimental, but, as usual, Watson makes the words ring true with a perfect balance of regret and world-weary wisdom. (E1 Entertainment)