Gene Watson

My Heroes Have Always Been Country – 2014 (Fourteen Carat Music)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

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CDs by Gene Watson

As suggested by the title, Gene Watson's latest project is a collection of cover tunes written and recorded by some of his musical heroes. After more than four decades in the business, Watson remains a strong performer of country ballads and pure honky tonk. Watson is at his best on ballads such as the George Jones hit "Walk Through This World with Me" and the Hank Cochran tune "Make the World Go Away" made famous by Eddie Arnold. On Nat Stuckey's "Don't You Believe Her," Watson displays his still impressive vocal range.

Merle Haggard is an obvious favorite as Watson nicely renders "It's Not Love (But It's Not Bad)" and "I Forget You Every Day." Other highlights are the Willie Nelson composition "Turn Out the Lights (The Party's Over)" and the up-tempo Orville Crouch honky-tonker "Hello Trouble" (also famously covered by Buck Owens). Perhaps the strongest track is Watson's moody take on the Lefty Frizzell classic "Long Black Veil."

Produced by Dirk Johnson (piano, keyboards), Watson's vocals are nicely supported throughout by Gregg Galbraith and James Mitchell (electric guitar), Kelly Back (acoustic guitar), Mike Johnson and Sonny Garrish (steel guitar), Aubrey Haynie and Gail Rudisil-Johnson (various strings), David Smith (bass), Robb Tripp (drums) and background vocals from John Wesley Ryles and Cindy Walker.

Though Gene Watson's days on the top of the country music charts may be in the past, he demonstrates that he is still one of the best pure country singers around.