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Aaron Watson, Sunny Sweeney put tradition first

Big Texas Dancehall and Saloon, Spring, Texas, August 16, 2008

Reviewed by Michael Sudhalter

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Aaron Watson spent Saturday afternoon at Minute Maid Park, screaming and hollering to no avail as his beloved Houston Astros lost to the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks.

By Saturday night, Watson was in the city's northern suburbs, doing what he does best - delivering a full show of honky-tonk music.

Watson apologized to the fans for using his voice to express frustration with the Astros. Apology accepted, but unnecessary.

The Amarillo native played a 90-minute set of material from both his new "Angels and Outlaws" album and older songs. Backed by the six-piece Orphans of The Brazos Band, including twin fiddles, Watson wasted no time setting the tone for the rest of the night, performing the rollicking Waylon Jennings cover, Tulsa, and Heyday Tonight, arguably country music's biggest barnburner of a song in quite a while.

One of the highlights of the fiddle-drenched show was Songs About Saturday Night, which fit the mood in the honky-tonk to a T.

Watson's band took requests from the audience, via napkins, and he agreed to play the love ballad, Next To Heaven, for some fans who made the trip from South Carolina.

Although Watson has introduced the Western Swing music of Bob Wills (with songs like Honky Tonkin' Around Texas) to a newer generation, he can also perform the radio-friendly stuff with the best of them. 3rd Gear of 17 was evidence of that, even though he had to start the song over due to technical difficulties.

Watson gave plenty of insight into his songs, talking about his first song that's going to be sent out nationally to radio. He said that his mother has the ability to veto any song in his catalog, and she didn't like that he was recording one called Love Makin' Song. But he told her not to judge a book by its cover and eventually got the okay. The song is a little bit more rocking than Watson's standard fare.

Few artists are recording trucker songs these days, but Watson has a couple in his repertoire, including Diesel Drivin' Daddy and Breaker, Breaker One-Nine. With both tunes, he was able to capture the spirit of trucking with the sound of western swing.

Watson shifted gears and showed another side of his music, performing tender ballads like San Angelo, Off The Record, Barbed Wire Halo and Shut Up And Dance.

One of the Texan's most creative songs was the title track to the new album. It's essentially a tribute to the late Johnny Cash and June Cash Carter. He tweaked the characters a little bit, but the storyline was the same.

Sweeney, a Houston-born singer raised in Longview, got the night started with a heavy dose of old-time traditional country music in a 35-minute set. She performed an impressive cover of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues, but threw in a reference to Huntsville Prison, just up Interstate 45, towards the end of the song, adding some local flavor to Cash's classic. Sweeney and her five-piece band kept going back and forth between slow ballads like It's A Sweet Dance and Ten Years Pass to uptempo songs that would speed up any two-stepper's dance - If I Could and Shame On You. She performed both types of songs with the style and grit that's seldom seen among today's country singers.