Call him a revisionist or label him a revivalist; either way, the sound defined by Dale Watson harkens back to an earlier era when artists like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Ray Price pioneered a genre now commonly called Americana. It has little in common with today’s contemporary country, encouraging him to coin a term — “Ameripolitan” – to describe the style he’s procured over twenty years, two dozen albums and twelve different record labels.
That said, it should come as no surprise that Watson’s new record, Live at the Big T Roadhouse, is all its title implies and that much more. The “more” part is reflected in the stage chatter left intact during the editing of the performance Watson and his band the Lonestars recorded live at the well known Texas honky tonk and roadhouse this past March. As Watson himself says in the liner notes, “Usually live albums edit out most of the banter and talking, but this is ‘a day in the life’ of anyone who has ever gone to one of my Sunday shows.” Consequently, between his rendition of several so-called outlaw country standards (“The Bottle Let Me Down,” “The Fugitive,” “Everybody’s Somebody in St. Hedwig, Texas” et. al.), the listener is privy to Watson regaling his audience with promises of free hotdogs, door prize giveaways and “chicken shit” admonitions. Although Watson has likely repeated this patter over the course of manner years spent performing in similar situations, the spontaneity that arises out of this folksy finesse gives an honest to gosh taste of what it’s like to witness Watson in his own environment.
As a result, those who tend to quibble about polish and perfection are best forewarned. These hardscrabble songs are delivered with a party as their purpose, and the band’s down home demeanor is authentic, clearly not faked. The music is loose and limber, the emphasis on attitude over aptitude. It’s not that Watson and his band are slackers; far from it. But they commit to the goal of getting the audience up and moving, not sitting sedately hoping for deeper meaning.
As a result, Live at the Big T Roadhouse is a lot like being there, perhaps more so than any concert recording of its kind. If you really want to know Willie, this is the place to begin.