Dale Watson

Dreamland – 2004 (Koch)

Reviewed by Eli Messinger

With Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson helping crystallize his honky-tonk roots, Dale Watson's turned out his strongest album to date. There are moments, like the cyclic front-line beat of "Never Ever," that show Benson's swing influence, but mostly the producer just sharpens Watson's twangy guitar and two-steppin' rhythms and deftly places the singer's baritone amid classic lines of fiddle and steel.

Watson's new songs (he wrote or co-wrote all 12 tracks) take in the shuffles and ballads of Ray Price, south-of-the-border tinged Bakersfield twang, blues and even bluegrass. He no longer bashes Nashville in words, finding more pointed criticism in the traditional country music idiom: lyrics of love lost and taken away and the occasional bar-side celebration, intertwined with the cries of guitar, steel and fiddle.

It's nothing new for Watson, who's long championed these sounds, but the alchemy brought to bear by his producer moves these recordings to the next level. The phased guitars and swelling steel lines of "Dreamland" add a dreamy quality to Watson's nocturnal memory of his late fianc+, and the bluegrass harmonies of "Fox on the Run" and "Pretty Girls" showcase Watson in a new, lighter setting. Together with more traditional honky-tonk tunes, this is sure to greatly please Watson's fans and attract some new converts.