Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dale Watson inhabits the 50s sound of Memphis

Posted By on 06.14.12 at 01:20 PM

Dale Watson & the Texas Two
  • Dale Watson & the Texas Two
The current band led by hard-core Austin honky-tonk singer Dale Watson, who performs at Martyrs' on Friday, is called the Texas Two, a clear reference to the legendary band fronted by Johnny Cash in the 50s. In case that salute weren't explicit enough, the group made its inspirations even more obvious on it most recent album, The Sun Sessions (Red House), released in October; it was cut in Memphis at Sun Studio, where Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Carl Perkins all made their paradigm-smashing records. The session was relatively spontaneous—the group were already on their way to Memphis when they learned their gig there had been canceled. Watson called Sun and found out that the studio was available.

What connects Watson and his band to vintage Cash more than anything is the actual music. Bassist Chris Crepps plays a mean slap bass, generating percussive rhythm as he outlines the shapes of the songs, and drummer Mike Bernal uses nothing more than a snare. Watson picks and strums simple rhythmic patterns on his guitar, letting his deep, resonant voice carry the melodic weight; in the past he's conjured the sound of many old-school singers, from Merle Haggard to Waylon Jennings, but here he's channeling Cash with an almost eerie fidelity, though he wisely avoids the singular vibrato his hero made famous.

If the overt imitation of that old Cash sound doesn't rub you the wrong way, Watson has plenty to offer. No other singer has so steadfastly embraced the sound of honky-tonk's golden era, but his songs have always had enough wit, craftsmanship, and soul to stand on their own—Watson can do contemporary gospel ("The Hand of Jesus"), tender, Presley-like ballads ("Her Love"), or a classic chucka-chucka locomotive number ("Gothenburg Train"). Watson recorded a second album with the Texas Two at Sun in February that he's calling Dalevis—The Sun Sessions 2, which he describes as "All originals and leaning toward the Elvis side of Sun."

Below you can check out videos for two songs from The Sun Sessions.

Today's playlist:

Marika Hughes, Afterlife Music Radio (DD)
Steve Coleman & Five Elements, The Mancy of Sound (Pi)
Now Ensemble, Awake (New Amsterdam)
Colin Vallon Trio, Rruga (ECM)
Anthony Braxton and John McDonough, 6 Duos (Wesleyan) 2006 (Nessa)

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