Dale Watson & Ray Benson | Maurer Hall, Old Town School of Folk Music | Folk & Country | Chicago Reader
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click to enlarge Dale Watson, Ray Benson

Dale Watson, Ray Benson

Frazer Harrison, Kristy Duff

When: Sat., Jan. 21, 5 & 8 p.m. 2017
Price: $35, $33 members
Both Texas-based musicians devoted to classic country, Dale Watson and Ray Benson feel generations removed from what Nashville generally markets these days. Benson has been playing music for more than four decades, racking up Grammys as the leader of Asleep at the Wheel—arguably the most long-standing western-swing combo in music history—while Watson has thrived as an outsider who churns out hard-core honky-tonk he’s long considered “too country for country.” They’ve just released a collaboration called Dale & Ray (Ameripolitan/Home) that makes a virtue of their disconnection from Music City, as song after song celebrates the sound of a bygone era. They waste little time elucidating their aesthetic: opener “The Ballad of Dale and Ray” features them pledging allegiance to Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, insisting “Today’s country music don’t move us that way / We like Hank Williams Sr, we’re Dale and Ray.” Obviously, “Feelin’ Haggard” laments the loss of the Bakersfield giant, while a cover of Willie Nelson’s “Write Your Own Songs” reinforces a shared disdain for the music-business hit factory. Ultimately the pair focuses on the sort of classic verities that make honky-tonk so timeless, whether serving up fast-moving wordplay on “Bus’ Breakdown,” a rambling trucker-style song about less-than-ideal transportation, or recounting alcohol-fueled debauchery with “A Hangover Ago.” The duo offers no surprises, but the pleasure of hearing two craftsmen celebrate a hallowed tradition is its own reward.
— Peter Margasak



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