Personnel: Dale Watson (guitar); Danny Levin (fiddle, piano); Chris Crepps (upright bass); Mike Bernal (drums).
Recording information: Pedernales Studios, Austin, TX.
Photographer: Jim Chapin.
If you've heard Dale Watson once or twice in nearly two decades of recording and touring, then you know how you feel about his work. His sound is devoted to hardcore, old-school, honky tonk country music. The man has stood on his principles and has invested his heart and soul in writing great songs whether they be hard-drinking or truck-driving songs, dancefloor stompers, or barroom ballads. El Rancho Azul is Watson's second record with the Red House label, a company well known for its releases by contemporary folk artists and singer/songwriters, not so much for country music devotees. As one might expect, it is not a departure from what Watson's always done -- yes, that's good. These 14 songs are a meld of solid electric country with Watson on his Tomkins, backed by pedal steel, upright piano, fiddle, electric bass, and a small drum kit. The drinking songs are among his finest, especially the Bakersfield strut of "I Lie When I Drink" and popping honky tonk blues of "I Drink to Remember," both of which Merle Haggard would be proud to have written (there are no less than five drinking tunes here). "Give Me More Kisses" has more than a touch of rockabilly, while both "I Can't Be Satisfied" and "Where Do You Want It" (a song inspired by one of Billy Joe Shaver's exploits with a gun) are outlaw country at its best. The slower two-step of "Quick Quick Slow Slow" is one of Watson's better love songs (and there are two variations of it back to back; the other is "Slow Quick Quick"). The overly sentimental "Daughter's Wedding Song" doesn't seem to fit with the rest of what's here, but this is clearly a tune he had to write and record, so who can fault him for a little sentimentality? El Rancho Azul adds to a very consistent string that will satisfy fans of his, and indeed any fan of historic country music. God bless Watson's refusal to "progress." ~ Thom Jurek