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Dale Watson lives in dreamland

By Jon Johnson, June 2004

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Watson's latest album, "Dreamland," is his first non-thematic collection of new material since 1997's "I Hate These Songs." In the intervening years, Watson has released a collection of trucking songs, a Christmas album, a live album, a tribute to his late girlfriend, an album of songs about life on the road and a few other albums which followed one theme or another.

But he's steered clear of straightforward collections of songs like the three albums he recorded for HighTone.

"Exactly. It's not a concept album," agrees Watson. "I write all the time. There's some songs on there - a couple of them, anyway - that date back to '93, '92...something like that. Most of 'em I came up with in the past year, though."

As a straightforward collection of songs, "Dreamland," doesn't really have the high points of his three HighTone albums; nothing quite as rousing as "Truckin' Man" from "Blessed or Damned" or as poignant as the title track from "I Hate These Songs."

And, come to think of it, it's been a while since Watson has recorded a trucking song. But as a Dale Watson album - that is, as an album of Watson playing a mixture of honky-tonk, Bakersfield Sound and Texas shuffles - it's the most representative album of his sound that he's recorded in probably four years.

Interestingly, "Dreamland" is the first Watson album to display any sort of overt bluegrass influence, with the Watson original (and album closer) "Pretty Girls" and a cover of the perennial "Fox On the Run" giving listeners a glimpse into what Watson might sound like as a bluegrass artist.

Asked if he's ever considered making a bluegrass album, Watson replies, "Yeah, it'd be great to do it, but it's not my forte. It wouldn't surprise me if I do an acoustic record. But I've got a lot of respect for (bluegrass). I'd hate to try to jump into that."

The album's cover is a nod to James Dean's iconic reclining pose on the poster of the 1956 film "Giant." It's an interesting image since "Giant" was Dean's last film and one in which his character, Jett Rink, grew to middle age without ever having gotten what he really wanted most in life.

Asked if there's a hidden message, Watson says there isn't. "We just did that to bring some familiarity to (the album). People look at it and go, 'Where have I seen that before...?'"

Produced by Asleep at the Wheel leader Ray Benson, "Dreamland" features the cream of Austin's country community, including Benson, Jason Roberts and Redd Volkaert (a longtime friend and collaborator of Watson's) on guitars, High Noon's Kevin Smith on upright bass, pianist Floyd Domino, AATW's David Sanger on drums and - on two songs - famed steel guitarist Ralph Mooney.

"That was Ray. He was able to bring Mooney out from Dallas where he lives. He played on a couple of cuts."

Asked how Benson contributed to the album, Watson responds, "Well, that was the big difference with this whole album. When I was at HighTone, Bruce Bromberg wasn't really producing. He was just the label's overseer. I produced all three of those albums. (Bromberg) really didn't do anything other than make sure we didn't go over time in the studio."

"That was the difference with Ray. It's nice to have that kind of trust in somebody."

When asked what he has in mind for his next album, Watson says that other than possibly recording an acoustic album he probably won't be doing any more concept albums.

"(The next album) will be more of the same, like this album. I think I'll just make straight country albums from here on. An acoustic album would be an idea. I can see doing something like that. But this album is probably going to be the tell-tale album whether I keep trying to beat a dead horse."

How so?

"I might need to get music out there through different channels," responds Watson. "This is the best country album I've ever done. If this doesn't do it, I'm toying with the idea of doing something more raw."

Although Watson has appeared in several movies since the early '90s (his appearance in "The Thing Called Love" predated his first album by 2 years), and studied acting a little bit when living in Los Angeles, in September he will begin filming his first starring role in a movie called "Austin Angel." It is a project Watson is clearly looking forward to.

"It's (being financed by) the University of Texas. It's going to make money for the college. This isn't the only one (they're making). They'll be doing three projects per year - some documentaries, some features...they're all going to be different. They're funding it, and they're going to use a lot of the U.T. film department."

"The movie itself is great," continues Watson. "The songs and story are by a fellow named Rod Harris out in California."

The film will be directed by Zalman King, a longtime Hollywood vet who has done a little bit of everything since first appearing on several episodes of "Gunsmoke" in the mid-'50s; actor, screenwriter, director and producer. He is probably best known to modern audiences as the writer/director of a large number of episodes of the '90s TV series "Red Shoe Diaries" and as the co-writer/producer of the 1986 Mickey Rourke/Kim Basinger film "9 12 Weeks."

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