Album Review – Dale Watson and Ray Benson’s ‘Dale & Ray’

Digipak 4P 1CD

Long-time readers know one of the things I’ve constantly harped for more in country music is duo collaboration albums. So it warmed my heart to see two old legends get together and release a new album to kick off the New Year. I’m of course referring to Ameripolitan artist Dale Watson and Asleep At The Wheel frontman Ray Benson. The longtime friends and icons have been apparently plotting an album together for over 10 years, but it just kept getting put off. Well it hasn’t put off anymore, as they’ve released their new record Dale & Ray. And thank goodness they didn’t put it off anymore because this album is pure country goodness from start to finish.

The old friends open with the introductory “The Ballad of Dale and Ray.” They sing of what they love, like pot, drinking and especially great country music. I specifically love the part where they sing of loving Hank Williams accompanied by an empathic “senior.” The iconic duo pays respect to the late great Merle Haggard on “Feelin’ Haggard.” They sum up how most of us felt the moment we heard we lost Haggard last year. In addition they pay respect to his impact and mention several of his best songs. It’s quite fitting and a great song to boot. They pay tribute to another great in Buck Owens on “Cryin’ to Cryin’ Time Again.” It’s a reference of course to Owens’ classic “Crying Time.” They hit it out of the park on their cover of The Louvin Brothers’ “I Wish You Knew.” The catchy instrumentation is what made me love it on the very first listen, as the twangy fiddles and steel guitar make it instantly infectious. It isn’t the only cover, as they also tackle Willie Nelson’s “Write Your Own Songs.” The song famously takes a no-prisoners aim at the record labels and the executives behind them, as it basically says they’re all lazy assholes. This is definitely a message I can appreciate.

“Bus’ Breakdown” is the duo at their most fun, as this bluegrass ditty recalls a business deal they made where Benson sold Watson a broke down old bus. Watson and Benson offer a message of hope on “Forget About Tomorrow Today.” At one point they reference the divisive nature of the recent election, arguing politicians don’t care about us and it’s best just to focus on what’s in front of us today. “A Hangover Ago” is your classic country drinking song, complete with the thick steel guitar throughout. “Nobody’s Ever Down in Texas” has a decidedly Western Swing sound and of course pays obligatory homage to the duo’s home state. The album closes with the waltzing love song “Sittin’ and Thinkin’ About You.” The light and breezy production really gives the song a carefree feeling, at the same time harkening back to the golden days of country music.

Dale & Ray is an album I instantly grew to love. Both Dale Watson and Ray Benson sound as great as ever, showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. It’s no surprise these two deliver such a thoroughly great country album, as it’s what they’ve been doing their whole careers. This is also further proof of why we need more collaboration albums like this one because when you put together two highly talented artists like Watson and Benson you get something you’ll certainly remember. Dale & Ray is a really fun album and something any country fan should love and appreciate.

Grade: 8/10

 

Recommend ? – Yes

Album Highlights: Write Your Own Songs, Forget About Tomorrow Today, The Ballad of Dale and Ray, Feelin’ Haggard, Bus’ Breakdown

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: None


The Hodgepodge: It’s Impossible to Choose One Defining Song for a Genre

I stumbled upon a New York Times article this week that made a big claim about rock music. The author basically says that when our grandchildren’s grandchildren look at rock music, the only name that’ll matter is Chuck Berry. Not Springsteen, Zeppelin, the Stones, or The Beatles, but Chuck Berry. I’m not saying he’s wrong about Berry being a figurehead and representative of rock music, but rock’s different styles don’t warrant such a narrow-minded claim. Yes, “Johnny B. Goode” is an excellent song and Chuck Berry fathered rock music like Hank fathered country. The author says Berry made simple, direct, rhythm based music, which best exemplifies rock music. He’s not wrong, but I think it’s wrong to pigeon-hole the genre into one song.

The big part of his claim comes from the fact that when NASA sent Voyager I into space, they included a mix record which included “Johnny B. Goode” on the track list – the only rock song on the list. So this got me thinking, is it possible to narrow down country music into one song that best represents the genre over the 70+ years of artists and songs who’ve done so much? I’ll argue that you need a Mount Rushmore of songs, not just one, because even country’s best songs and artists had different styles that are all country music.

Take “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” arguably the best country song of all time. Listening to the song with its grand crescendo and a faint steel guitar, it’s vastly different from Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” a song electric guitars and simple percussion beat, also argued to be the best country song. Both songs sound way different, yet they’re both country music, and they’re both great representations of the genre. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings couldn’t be more different in their sounds, yet both artists not only exemplified the Outlaw movement, but country music as a whole. Waylon’s rock sound is more in line with Cash’s style, but even then, the two artists are distinctly different.

The Bakersfield Sound has its own unique flair different from the aforementioned artists, yet Merle Haggard and Buck Owens are just as influential to country music. Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette don’t exactly sound like Kitty Wells, but all of their music is a big part of country’s history. Many of these styles stem from Hank Williams, and all these styles are equally important to country’s roots. These are the styles that have influenced many of today’s Americana and Country stars. The early generation brought out singers like George Strait, Reba, and Alan Jackson, who have gone on to influence the likes of Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, Cody Jinks, and pretty much everyone we’ve reviewed here.

The point is I think it’s impossible to simply try to find one song or artist to represent a music genre rich with history and talent. Country, Rock, Rap, and every other genre has their top-tier of artists who’ve gone onto to influence the genre. At the end of the day, one can always trace the history back to the root of the genre, which is never a bad option to choose as a genre head. But dismissing Waylon or Merle as a defining artist of country music because their sound was not Hank’s country sound is blasphemous, as is dismissing rock’s eclectic history because it’s not as simple and rhythmic as Chuck Berry.

Upcoming/Recent Country Music Releases

  • On July 8, Mark Chesnutt’s new album, Tradition Lives will be released.
  • David Nail’s Fighter will be released the following week on the 15th.
  • At the end of the month on July 29, Lori McKenna’s The Bird & The Rifle will be released.
  • Shovels and Rope recently released a new single called “I Know.” Their new album Little Seeds will be out October 7.
  • Southern rockers/Texas Country band Whiskey Myers are working with producer Dave Cobb on their new album, Mud. The first single from the album is “Lightning Bugs and Rain.”

Throwback Thursday Song

“False Accuser’s Lament” by Jason Boland and the Stragglers. I’ve been listening to a lot of Boland lately, and this song has jumped up my list of favorites from him. “False Accuser’s Lament” can be found on Rancho Alto, one of Boland’s best albums in my opinion.

Non-Country Suggestion

Velvet Portraits by Terrace Martin – an album mixed with Jazz, Hip Hop, and R&B, Velvet Portraits is a diverse album. It’s a fun listen though, with the relaxing Jazz instrumentals and hip hop lyrical deliveries on the others. It’s different, but worth the listen.

Tweet of the Week

Wheeler Walker, Jr. is a great follow on twitter if you don’t mind some profanity on your timeline. As streaming continues to rise, labels getting songs on “featured playlists” on Spotify or Apple Music will be the new way of getting on the charts.

A Chase Rice iTunes Review

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Chase Rice’s new single, “Everybody We Knows Does,” is the same generic BS from every other generic bro before him. After his letter apologizing for “Whisper,” I expected at least something that shows a little effort in a follow-up single, but I was mistaken.

Watch: Karen Jonas Performs New Song “Country Songs”

Country Perspective’s 2014 (Co) Female Artist of the Year winner Karen Jonas is back with new music. Her 2014 debut album Oklahoma Lottery was one of the absolute gems of country music in 2014 and was a strong contender to win Country Perspective’s 2014 Album of the Year award. Simply put if you haven’t heard Jonas’ music yet, you need to change this. Anyway back to the news at hand and that’s Jonas’ new song “Country Songs.” Jonas said on Twitter that this is the title track of her new upcoming record.

So what do I think of it? I think she left right off where she was with Oklahoma Lottery. Jonas sings about how she grew to love country music and cites artists such as Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam that understand how she feels better than anyone else. It’s essentially her love letter to country music. Jonas’ voice is amazing as always. What else is there to say? This is a phenomenal song. Be sure to give it a listen below and let us know what you think of it in the comments below.

Album Review – The Secret Sisters’ Put Your Needle Down

Fitting The Secret Sisters into one genre of music is an impossible task. Their musical influences are vast, coming from an array of artists and decades. You may be quick to box them in as traditional country; after all, many of the songs on their debut record four years ago are covers of country greats like George Jones, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and Buck Owens. However, their sophomore effort, Put Your Needle Down, shatters that little glass box and shows the sisters, Laura and Lydia Rogers, playing rock music, a little blues, Motown, 1950s style ballads alongside their country roots. The sisters also focused their efforts for this album on their original material, co-writing 9 of the 12 tracks, with writers such as Dan Wilson, Gordie Sampson, Brandi Carlile and they finished an incomplete song from Bob Dylan. Under producer T Bone Burnett, The Secret Sisters deliver a brilliant album to their fans.

The Best Songs on the Album

Laura and Lydia grew up singing a cappella in their church, and that history and practice of vocal harmonizing doesn’t go unnoticed here. The sisters show off a great vocal range throughout the whole album and they blend their voices together beautifully on every song, especially in “Bad Habit.” The sisters trade lines and verses throughout the song and echo the lines of the song’s outro. This is one of the few songs on the album in which they give listeners a unique, give and take vocal performance, and The Secret Sisters do not let that opportunity go to waste. The song itself is a well-written tune about an addiction. They drop lines that make it fairly clear that this addiction is to a man, but a few verse lines and primarily the chorus leave room for listeners to cast whatever bad habit he or she has onto this song. “Black and Blue” is another song that allows the listener to interpret meaning for him or herself. On the surface, is a song where a female laments over the idea of her man leaving her; she wants another chance from him. But lines like “I’m black and blue worrying over you” lead this reviewer to believe that perhaps he may be abusive and she may be submissive to that abuse. The song is written vaguely enough to allow for this open interpretation without taking away from the surface meaning of loss and heartbreak. Also the impressive Motown groove of the melody helps cover that potentially dark undertone of the lyrics.

In songs where the story is clear, The Secret Sisters drive that story home with their melodies. “Iuka” (which was recently performed on The Tonight Show) introduces us to a young couple in love. Her father is short-tempered and abusive and doesn’t want his daughter to marry, so the couple travels to Iuka, Mississippi to elope. However, the angry father chases this couple until he catches them and the sisters drive the point home with the lyric “two headstones for two lovers who finally got away.” Laura and Lydia cover PJ Harvey’s “The Pocket Knife”, a song about a young woman not wanting to get married despite her mother and suitor’s wish. It’s likely the situation in the song is an arranged marriage and the young girl in the song simply wants independence in her life. They sing this song with an angry passion that’s felt throughout the entire track. It’s worth noting the album’s namesake is a lyric from this song. Both these tracks have heavy, dark moods driven by screeching fiddles, hard-hitting percussions and intense guitar strums. The best part about these songs is that The Secret Sisters keep their perfectly harmonized vocals present in the midst of the heavy instrumentation.

The Worst Songs on the Album

There honestly isn’t a song here that I found bad or worth calling out for a lesser quality. Each song has its own unique value that it brings to the production as a whole.

The Rest of the Album

Besides their harmonies, the one other feature that stood out on this album was the percussion of every song. The tambourines and drums throughout the whole record are outstanding. In fact, the instrumentation as a whole is exceptional. The seasoned production of T Bone Burnett is felt in every song on Put Your Needle Down. They sing Motown (“Black and Blue” “I Cannot Find a Way”), blues (“Bad Habit”), rock (“The Pocket Knife” “Iuka” “Rattle My Bones”), country (“If I Don’t”, “Let There Be Lonely”, “River Jordan”); and The Secret Sisters sound natural on every track. “Dirty Lie” is the song that Bob Dylan had started years ago and sent to the sisters to finish. Laura and Lydia work with Dylan’s draft, and work their own voice into the lyrics to while intermixing their additions naturally to what Mr. Dylan began years ago. “Lonely Island” and “Good Luck, Good Night, Goodbye” are two tracks that have a 50s feel and are filled with more great harmonization and writing. After an album of mostly covers (and well done cover songs, I might add), The Secret Sisters step up to the challenge and establish themselves as artists capable of delivering great original content to a growing fan base. Most artists who undertake an album where they jump into four or five different genres may stumble and fall with the choppy nature of the tall order, but not The Secret Sisters. Laura and Lydia have the vocal gifts to effortlessly deliver authentic sounding songs in every genre they touch, matched with a great production to sell that authenticity.

Overall Thoughts

In the Rolling Stone article linked above, Lydia Rogers says if you can’t categorize your music, then you’re not following a formula or musical trends, which means that your music is truly something special. And that’s what Put Your Needle Down is; it’s something special. This album is a musical time machine, taking it right into the center of each era of great music and The Secret Sisters flawlessly execute every song, delivering a quality that could stand up with each genre’s best. This is no sophomore slump. Laura and Lydia prove their songwriting prowess and establish themselves a strong base on which to build a strong, promising musical future.

Grade: 10/10