You can’t fault Dale Watson’s credibility as a rock-ribbed country traditionalist. Born into poverty, on the road at 14, owner of not one but two honky-tonks, he even drives a truck every once in a while—not some suburban Ford F-150, either, but an actual commercial rig. So if he seems like he’s just stepped out of the mist from six decades ago, it’s genuine. Some folks just speak honky-tonk naturally, like a language. Or maybe it just spoke to him.
An Austin guitar slinger with a rich, deep voice—he wields Johnny Cash’s stark honesty with a growl that sounds like it crawled out from under Sam Elliott’s mustache—Dale sure sounds like a country outlaw. But when he keeps protesting that he’s a bad man who’ll only bring you down with him, he just seems like an old romantic protecting his battered heart, like in the literal and figurative ambivalence of “You Weren’t Supposed to Feel This Good.” He plays guitar like a Texan but can groove like a Memphian; most of the arrangements here are right out of the Tennessee Two playbook (drummer W.S. Holland is even on a few tracks), and he recorded all these songs at the legendary Sun Studios to get that patented slapback echo. But he’s equally fluent in Country Swing (“Tupelo Mississippi & a ‘57 Fairlane”), Texas shuffles (“Inside View”) and near-rockabilly (“David Buxkemper,” about a farmer fan). He calls his style “Ameripolitan,” which is ironic because “Countrypolitan” is the movement that started to put pop into country way back in the ’60s. Dale Watson, once again, is busy taking it back out.