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


Album Review – The Malpass Brothers’ Self-Titled Album is Pure, Classic Country

The Malpass Brothers

“This is who we are…My brother Taylor and I do the type of music we do because this music speaks to us, and speaks to the souls of its listeners. For us, traditional country music is the ‘real deal’ – every song portrays life’s joys, heartaches, problems and happiness. It comes from the heart, and has depth and truth. Nothing is sugar coated. Our goal, really, is to see this music be revived, to help ensure it doesn’t fade away. It is so encouraging to have young people come to our shows with a new interest in our ‘old music.’ Being able to introduce what we love to another generation feels like a great accomplishment for us. We want this music to be around for our children’s children…” – Chris Malpass

Ladies and gentlemen, meet The Malpass Brothers. They’re a duo made up of brothers Taylor and Chris Malpass. Together they make country music. Not just any country music, but classic country music. They’re inspired by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. Speaking of The Hag, they toured with him for six years and released an album under Hag Records. To top it all off, look at the way they dress and their haircuts above. They’re rocking the Conway Twitty look! I think you get the picture: The Malpass Brothers couldn’t be anymore country if they tried. So does their new self-titled album sound as country as they look? Oh yes, yes it does.

The first song to kick off the album is “A Death in the Family.” The brothers prove right away they can tackle classic country on this Bill Anderson song. The fiddles and pedal steel guitar are perfect. Next the Malpass Brothers cover the Bobby Bare song, “Which One is to Blame.” Once again they knock it out of the park, as their vocal delivery is spot on. You think you’re listening to some artist from the 60s when it’s two brothers in their early 20s in the year 2015. One of my favorite covers the brothers do on the album is the Jerry Lee Lewis song, “It’ll Be Me.” It just feels like a perfect fit for the two and the piano play is dazzling. Once again I want more piano in country songs.

“Learn To Love Me Too” is a love song where the man is not only convincing his love to love him, but trying to convince himself to love himself too. He’s made some mistakes in the past and is hoping to make up for them now. I’m assuming this is a new song and not a cover, as I couldn’t find anything indicating it was a cover. Regardless whoever wrote it did a great job and brought a new perspective to a love song. Taylor Malpass takes the lead vocals on the Willie Nelson tune, “Hello Walls.” They’re phenomenal, as his bellowing vocals on the opening notes instantly pull the listeners in. Not too many artists can do so much justice to a Willie song and that’s exactly what the brothers do here. This album continues to get better as next is the Marty Robbins song, “Begging To You.” Chris Malpass nails the higher notes on this song and adds the right amount of emotion to this heartbreak classic. The sweeping piano play in the bridge is just icing on the cake to this sweet song.

“Here In Alberta I’ll Stay” is one of three new songs on the album and the Malpass Brothers of course nail it even. Written by Pete Goble, the song is about a cowboy from Texas finding the love of his life, a cowgirl from Alberta, Canada. This is my favorite song on the album because these two simply get country love ballads and I hope they tackle more original material on their next album. So far in the album the Malpass Brothers have covered Bill Anderson, Marty Robbins and Willie Nelson. Next? George Strait’s “I Met A Friend of Yours Today.” The song is about a man overhearing another man talk about his wife at a bar and realizing she’s cheating on him. Once again they brilliantly cover a song from an iconic country artist.

Oh, but the Malpass Brothers decide to go even higher up on the country music legend scale in their covers. They perform a song by the country music king himself, Hank Williams. Now this is ballsy! “Baby, We’re Really In Love” is a simple love song that is part of the foundation of what country music truly is. I think Hank would be pretty proud of the Malpass Brothers performing this song. The third original song on the album (at least I think it is, as I couldn’t find any information that says it is a cover) is “I Found Someone To Love,” a song about a man falling in love with a woman, but she doesn’t love him back. Despite her not feeling the same way, the man is still persistent in his love for her. Again the Malpass Brothers simply get love ballads.

Once again the brothers tackle a Hank song, this time it’s “I Just Don’t Like This Kind of Livin’.” It’s a heartbreak song about a man not enjoying the life he has with his woman and wanting to get out of it. I think I’m running out of superlatives to describe how great The Malpass Brothers are. The final song on the album is “Satan and The Saint,” which I knew was a Louvin Brothers song just by looking at the title. There’s plenty of acoustic guitar and mandolin on this song, the signature sound of The Louvin Brothers. Congratulations to you Malpass Brothers, as I’m now convinced you could cover any country song you want and it would be awesome.

Very rarely am I left speechless and a loss for words when listening to a great album, but this is the case with The Malpass Brothers’ new self-titled album. This is just pure, classic country that words can’t do justice. I’ve listened to this album over and over. I can’t get over how great it is and how two young artists like Chris and Taylor Malpass get country music so damn well. These guys were born to make country music. If you’re a fan of pop country music, don’t listen to this album. It’s simply too country for you. For those who love traditional and classic country, buy this album, press play and prepare to be amazed. You can’t get anymore country than this album. This is one of my favorites of 2015 and I can’t wait to hear more music from The Malpass Brothers for years to come.

Grade: 10/10

 

Album Review – Ronnie Reno’s ‘Lessons Learned’

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For over 60 years, Ronnie Reno has pretty much seen it all in his long and illustrious career. His dad was banjo pioneer Don Reno, who made up one half of the Hall of Fame duo of Reno & Smiley. Ronnie started out his own career working alongside his dad, the Louvin Brother and the Osborne brothers. Reno then caught the attention of Merle Haggard and worked with the Hag on several of his major hits, including “If We Make It Through December” and “I’ve Got a Darlin’ For A Wife.” Reno went on to earn his own record deal with MCA Records, all while working alongside legends such as Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. He also wrote Conway Twitty’s #1 hit “Boogie Grass Band.”

Reno is still going strong now too, as he has his own television on RFD-TV called “Reno’s Old Time Music.” It’s seen in over 46 million homes. In addition he produced the upcoming duo project featuring Merle Haggard and Mac Wiseman, Timeless, due to be released later this year. All the while releasing his first album in over decade titled Lessons Learned. And as long as Reno’s career has been, he’s certainly learned a lot of lessons along the way. With this in mind, Reno certainly has a wealth of experience to fall back on as inspiration for this comeback album.

Lessons Learned begins with “Lower Than Lonesome,” a song about being heartbroken. You’ll know right away this album is going to be old school and traditional sounding in every way from the instrumentation to the song structure. This is a nice song to start the album, as it’s kind of an introduction of what’s to come. The next song, “Lessons Learned,” is a catchy little tune about how we learn something from everything we do every single day. We learn from joy and pain, growing because of these experiences. It’s a simple song with an honest message. Reno sings about love in “I Think of You.” The stripped down instrumentation gives it a romantic and easy-going feeling, which works great for a song like this one. The man in the song has seemed to have a falling out with a woman who was in his life and now he can’t stop thinking about her. It’s a yearning for a feeling that is now gone.

Reno picks the pace back up with “Sweet Rosa Lee.” It’s a short love song dedicated to a woman named Rosa Lee. The banjo instrumentation will make you tap your feet as you listen. “Deep Part of Your Heart” is a sentimental love ballad that really goes to the core of what love is all about. We all have a deep part of our heart and that deep love is only shared with a few people in our lives that we love the most. You really can’t get a better definition of a love song than this one. The instrumental “Reno’s Mando Magic” is next. The sweet bluegrass sounds you’ve heard throughout the album get a song to itself to really remind you of what country music should sound like.

“Trail of Sorrow” is about a man who knows he is on a path of sorrow he caused after a night of drinking. It’s gotten him in trouble with his woman and he’s lost his money in a card game. Everything is going wrong around him and he knows tomorrow he’ll have to face those consequences. The song does a great job of telling a story and the lessons learned from drinking too much (something you never see in mainstream country songs).

The nostalgic “All That’s Worth Remembering” is about a man’s memories throughout life, but the one that stands out most for him is a woman who was the love of his life. He chased his dream and left her behind, but he realized that was a mistake. To me this is the best song on the album because it’s the perfect blend of emotion and storytelling. The next song “Our Last Goodbye” feels like the epilogue to “All That’s Worth Remembering.” The man is begging the love of his life to take him back one last time and to not make their goodbye their last goodbye. He reminds them of their love, hoping that convinces her.

“Bad News” is about a man having bad news from home, something that he brought on himself through his own behavior. This includes losing all of their money in a game of five-card stud, which prompted his wife to kick him out of the house. The instrumentation I should mention in this song and throughout the album is pretty damn good. The final song on Lessons Learned is “Always Late,” where Reno is joined by David Frizzell. It’s about a man’s love always being too late with her kisses and how this causes him strife. I love how Reno’s showing the achenes in his voice to express the displeased attitude of the man in the song. This is an all-around great song that caps off the album perfectly.

Lessons Learned is an album that you can tell was crafted by a man who has seen it all and can seamlessly blend those experiences into his music. It’s genuine and from the heart. Reno simply understands how country music works and many artists today would be wise to take notes from an elder statesman like Reno. Being that this is Reno’s first album in over a decade, I thought it was wise to stick to simple themes throughout, as they’re easier to build around. Not to mention it allows more listeners to connect with the music. Older listeners and younger listeners who appreciate the craft, will enjoy the bluegrass stylings of Lessons Learned.

Grade: 8.5/10

To preview and purchase Reno’s Lessons Learned, click here