Dale & Ray

Dale & Ray – 2017 (Americapolitan/Home)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

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The teaming of Dale Watson and Ray Benson is a natural union of two of the strongest champions of country music's heritage, with Watson in particular often going on the offensive against the country music industry. There is a touch of that defiance in the opening "The Ballad of Dale and Ray" ("Today's country music don't move us that way/We like Hank Williams Senior/We're Dale and Ray"), but for the most part Watson and Benson focus on displaying their reverence for traditional country.

"Feelin' Haggard" and "Cryin' to Cryin' Time Again," which pay homage to the Bakersfield sound of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, are among the strongest tracks. Other heroes are nicely represented with covers of Willie Nelson's "Write Your Own Songs" (from the 1982 "WWII" album by Waylon and Willie) and the Louvin Brothers' "I Wish You Knew."

Other highlights are the uptempo "Bus' Breakdown," featuring comical banter between Benson and Watson detailing a dubious transaction, and the optimistic "Nobody's Ever Down in Texas" ("There's miles and miles of smiles and smiles from Beaumont to El Paso"). "Forget About Tomorrow Today" takes on a cynical tone with some sharp social commentary ("The government and politicians/Ain't looking out for us and our conditions/Ten more debates gets one elected/After all that crap I still feel real neglected").

Produced by Watson and Benson along with Sam Seifert (guitars, lap steel, harmony vocals) the instrumentation is stellar throughout with notable contributions from Lloyd Maines (steel guitar), Dennis Ludiker (bass, fiddle, mandolin) and frequent Watson collaborators Don Pawlak (steel guitar), Chris Crepps (bass) and Mike Bernal (drums). For devotees of traditional country music, "Dale and Ray" is a fun and satisfying listen.