Dale Watson & The Texas Two – The Sun Sessions (Music Review)
With a band named “The Texas Two” and an album called The Sun Sessions, it could be easy to think that Dale Watson’s new album is a collection of rarities from the classic days of Sun Studio. He even does a passable imitation of the rockabilly that made Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Two famous while recording there. Only a few modern references and the mature perspective betray this as new material. Whether this approach is a gimmick or not is a matter of opinion, but every sign is that Watson takes this perfectly seriously. He and his band never stretch themselves trying to sound more like Cash than they can handle, and the songs legitimately fit alongside the ones from that era without feeling like simple copies.
According to the liner notes. Watson wrote half of this album in a rush after spontaneously scheduling the studio time, and the band had almost no chance to practice. This shows in the simple nature of some of these songs, especially the music. However, this style is not meant to be complex, and there is a thin line between simple and iconic. Even the most basic songs such as “Gothenburg Train” and “The Hand of Jesus” could find a place as filler on the classic Johnny Cash recordings, and that’s no small feat. The fact that Watson managed this on short notice is a testament to his songwriting skills.
Averaging two minutes each, the band barrels through the expected variety of country themes. The heartfelt songs about love and religion fit in alongside suicide and vengeance, and Watson covers the trains, trucks, tributes, and life lessons on other tracks. “My Baby Makes Me Gravy” is a fun slice of life that doesn’t feel as gimmicky as the lighthearted songs of many country greats, and the self-destructive “Down, Down, Down, Down, Down” is a passable shot at Watson’s own “Folsom Prison Blues” or “Mama Tried”. But the song that should truly enter the country canon is “Elbow Grease, Spackle and Pine Sol”. Despite the awkward name, it’s a heartrending new take on a traditional country topic, and a vivid character study as well.
Even if the songs seem dashed off, there is not a bad one on this album. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to simply imitate their inspirations forever, but for the length of The Sun Sessions, the results feel pretty nearly perfect.