What’s an underdog? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, underdog is defined as the following:
a person, team, etc., that is expected to lose a contest or battle
a less powerful person or thing that struggles against a more powerful person or thing (such as a corporation)
Aaron Watson has been making music for over 15 years and has now released a dozen albums. He’s beloved in the Texas/Red Dirt scene and is known quite well in those parts. How is Watson an underdog? Well in the world of country music Watson is absolutely an underdog. He’s an independent, Texas/Red Dirt country artist who doesn’t have a single mainstream hit and yet probably should have several by now. By all accounts and judging by his interactions on social, he’s a very nice person and a good family man. Watson has the country look and the country sounding music that people like. Has the total package, right? But take a look at the second line of the definition of underdog. Aaron Watson is the personification of it. The corporation is Nashville/Music Row.
Aaron Watson’s new album The Underdog is his stand and really the stand for underdog country artists everywhere. Fans have noticed too, as each week leading up this album release a new song from the album was released to iTunes and it immediately shot to the top of the country chart. To say the intrigue and anticipation for this album was high is an understatement. So does The Underdog match the hype? Well if you love the honky-tonk, 90s style country sound you’ll definitely want to keep reading.
The album kicks off with “The Prayer,” where Watson prays to God. The Christian influence is palpable in this song, as Watson professes that he can’t be the “king of me.” The instrumentation is really well done and is a precursor to the rest of the album. The next song, “Wildfire,” takes a more fun approach. This song was actually originally performed by John Mayer and also previously covered by Rascal Flatts. I can definitely say this is the best version of the three. The clapping in the chorus of this song makes it quite catchy and provides a great hook. While the lyrics mirror bro country, I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as such. It’s not as forced and there’s no creepy misogyny behind it.
The energy stays high with “Freight Train.” The banjo drives the rhythm of this song and gives it the element many 90s country songs had: it makes people want to dance. And no Watson is not rapping like the bro country artists have attempted in recent years. He’s doing spoken word, which is a lost art in country music (or butchered in a few cases in 2014). Some may even call it an auctioneer style. This is a fun country song that belongs on the radio. Yes, bro country and metro-politan fans real country music can be fun.
While “That Look” is a little too checklist-y to me at times, it really reminds me of 90s country. From the instrument arrangement to the lyrics, this song could have easily played on the radio in the 90s. One cheesy line that does make me cringe a little is when Watson sings, “that girl is off the hook.” I could have done without that line and so could the song. “Getaway Truck” is another song that just relies too much on clichés. In fact this is one of the closest songs to bro country on the album. The instrumentation is good though, especially the fiddles.
One of the best songs on The Underdog is “Bluebonnets (Julia’s Song).” It’s essentially a song about life and how short it can be, so you should enjoy it for all you can. He compares life to bluebonnets in the spring. This song is easy to like because it appeals to your heart, not your mind. You can also tell it comes from Watson’s heart. This makes it easy for listeners to connect. Watson goes to the cowboy cliché well in “That’s Why God Loves Cowboys.” It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s all stuff we’ve heard before. And hey I’ll take cowboy songs over the mainstream country songs about going to the club. This sounds country and is thematically country at least.
“That’s Gonna Leave a Mark” is another fun song from Watson that could have easily passed for 90s country. It’s catchy, simple and Watson’s self-deprecation gives it a humorous edge too. This is the kind of song I think would be perfect for radio today because it’s really a good compromise between traditional country fans’ wants and Music Row’s wants. The album’s title track is about life. I think more than anything it’s about Watson’s life, as he self-reflects on it. This is especially evident when he sings about his wife to his kids. This song is really an embodiment of what Aaron Watson is all about. It’s a family friendly song that I think many listeners will be able to connect with too.
Another song with too many checklist elements is “Blame It on Those Baby Blues.” I think this one tries too hard to appeal to radio like “Getaway Truck.” But like that song I can appreciate the fact that this song isn’t offensive and it has a good sound. Watson sings about romance in “One of Your Nights,” a song about a man after a long day needing his woman to be there for him that night. Think of it more as a husband-wife dynamic and not a boyfriend-girlfriend dynamic. For those married, you probably understand the angle of this song best. The piano also makes for a nice touch, especially to close the song.
“Family Tree” is about the strength and importance of family. It also has a strong Christian tone, as it mentions the importance of God alongside family. While the lyrics feel a little campy, it comes from Watson’s heart and it isn’t hyperbole. This is another song with instrumentation that sounds like it came straight out of the 90s. The penultimate song on the album is “Rodeo Queen,” a song about a rodeo clown falling in love with a rodeo queen. It’s a love song with a funny twist and I applaud Watson for the creative spin on the average country love song. We also get to hear Watson’s falsetto, which isn’t too shabby. This is a fun little song.
The final song on the album is “Fence Post” and it’s one hell of a way to conclude The Underdog. It’s a country music protest song that hits the nail right on the head. “Fence Post” is brutally honest and paints a brilliant picture of country music today. I’m not going to describe this one because this is one you just need to hear for yourself. I’ll say one thing: I’ll be keeping this in mind for Country Perspective’s 2015 Song of the Year award.
Is The Underdog the best country album of the year? No. But it could be one of the most important country albums of the year. Why? It could be one of the most important because it’s the perfect example of something that would please both traditional country fans and the suits in Nashville. It has commercial appeal (just as “Fence Post” says!), yet has substance. More importantly it sounds like country music. I’ve seen many people aptly compare this album to the material Brad Paisley, Clay Walker and Tim McGraw were churning out around the late 90s to the early 2000s. Everyone loves and roots for the underdog. Country music fans need to root for this underdog, Aaron Watson, as I definitely recommend checking this album out. The Underdog deserves to “blow up” and it’s the kind of album that could fix mainstream country music.