The previously unreleased "Little Darlin' Sessions," were meant to be Dale Watson's Nashville debut for Curb Records. The idea seemed to be right up his alley, an album of songs first released on Andrew Mayhew's Little Darlin' label, recorded in a retro style. Last year, the singer told me he wasn't allowed to record with his own band - which he didn't feel right about - and that the Nashville crowd just couldn't produce the Bakersfield twang he thrived upon. Eventually the deal fell through and the project laid dormant.
That said, the 15-songs assembled showcase some of the best pedal steel laden country music this side of 1967. Singing in a higher voice than usual, Watson channels George Jones and Johnny Paycheck's sense of wailing disquiet and Ray Price's sense of romantic rumination ("Touch My Heart"). Recording with a bare bones '60's Nashville sound - fiddle, steel, piano, drums, bass - the singer's playlist includes hurtin' songs ("Everything You Touch Turns to Hurt"), alcohol-fueled shuffles galore ("If I'm Gonna Sink"), and the occasional tale of justifiable homicide ("He Thought He'd Die Laughing"). Further, classy renditions of a few classics (Bobby Austin's "Apartment #9," Paycheck's "Lovin' Machine") smartly demonstrates his diverse emotional range.
The Koch set seems like an unfinished, albeit worthwhile, entry in what is shaping up as a remarkably compelling body of work.