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Music Review: Dale Watson – The Sun Sessions

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A restless soul. A fearless musical artist. That’s what Austin, Texas’s Dale Watson surely is. For what else under the blazing sun could begin to explain why this man—the guitar-slingin’ longtime-leader of what is perhaps the world’s finest honky-tonk country band (The Lonestars)–just released a new album, The Sun Sessions, that purposefully forsakes that entire sound.

After working tirelessly long and hard to establish an international fan base who thrills over The Lonestars’s time-warp authenticity—often anchored by dazzling pedal steel guitar-lines (courtesy of Seattle’s ace steeler, Don Pawlak) and heart-rendingly lonesome fiddle work—Watson now strips things way down. Here we have a loving salute to the raw aural aesthetic as pioneered back in the 1950s at Memphis’s hallowed Sun Studios and the original generation of artists—Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis—who helped establish it as both a place and a sound. For The Sun Sessions Watson has opted to perform a batch of 14 original songs cut in a minimalistic fashion and featuring only his vintage-styled guitar-plucking and (via The Texas Two) a thumping doghouse bass (Chris Crepps) and snappy southern-steeped snare (Mike Bernal).

Already renowned for his independent spirit, rich and manly vocals, hellacious picking skills, and evocative song-crafting, Watson once again steps up with a real winner. Twenty-one years and twenty albums into his career, this time Watson offers us a direct tribute to his musical forebears.  The Sun Sessions includes, among others: road tunes (“Drive, Drive, Drive”); songs about interesting characters (“Big Daddy” and “Johnny At The Door”); love songs, by turns either funny (“My Baby Makes Me Gravy”), sweetly tender (“Her Love”), or utterly heartbreaking (“Ponder Why, I Ponder Why”); a celebratory declaration of his unfettered way-of-life (“Lord I’m Free”); and appropriately during this auspicious season of the Occupy Wall Street protests, the topical “The Hand of Jesus.” “You think you’ve got it made boy…sittin’ high on Wall Street lookin’ down at me,” Watson sings.  But then, that’s the magic of Dale Watson, the Sun Studios facility, and The Sun Sessions: they are at once timely and timeless.

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