Dale Watson consciously tries to evoke the hard country music of the past,particularly the fiddle-and-steel barroom sounds of folks like Haggard, Johnny Bush and Gene Watson. And while he often succeeds, his third album still finds him occasionally straining too hard.
Watson's burly baritone has never sounded better, and his Lone Stars bandare ably helped out here by Texas notables like Lloyd Maines, Gene Eldersand Floyd Domino. Still, Watson's vocal and lyrical references to pastcountry greats sometimes sound forced and self-conscious. When he dropsinto his lower register, he does it with a bluntness that's in marked contrast to the natural ease of a Haggard. His occasional vocal asides sound particularly awkward and unconvincing. And he may indeed love "real country music," Texas and mama, as he bluntly proclaims in one song, but the artists admired by Watson more subtly evoked love of such things with every note they played.
Quite often though he gets it just right, particularly on the lovely ode to "Jack's Truck Stop & Cafe" and the sprightly swing of "Leave Me Alone." Like his first two albums, Watson's new one may be flawed, but it's still some of the finest hard country being made today.