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Dale Watson Is ‘Carryin’ On’ With True Country Music

Frazer Harrison, Getty Images

There’s never been a doubt where Dale Watson stands when it comes to country music. From his first album release in 1995, ‘Cheatin’ Heart Attack,’ to his latest effort, ‘Carryin’ On,’ Dale sings old-style country with a passion. Despite living in Nashville for a few years, writing songs and looking for that break, the Austin-based singer basically has had little to do with Music City.

His new album brings him back to Nashville, however, where he recorded at Hilltop Studios with steel guitar player Lloyd Green as the leader who gathered veteran Nashville musicians and a few youngsters to record the new project. When he entered the studio, Dale didn’t have a label deal but had decided to pay for the sessions himself. He later contracted with Entertainment One, who will distribute the album. The singer says this project is something he’s been trying to do for years, and had tried to do with his ‘Little Darlin” sessions in 2000.

“The old school players that know how to still play this type of music are some of the guys we used on these sessions,” Dale explains to The Boot, listing piano great Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins and steel guitarist Pete Wade as part of the musicians’ team. Not to leave out the new guys who respect the traditional sounds, Green also enlisted the help of Dennis Crouch on bass and fiddler extraordinaire Glen Duncan.

“Dennis is a young guy that still knows how to play it that old style,” Dale says. “He plays with Alison Krauss, and I’d recommend him to anyone who needs an upright bass player. Some of these young guys have reverence for the old stuff, know how to work with it, and can work with the old guys who do it. It was the merging of the two that made it fun, with a totally different sound.”

Dale admits he is pretty much a control freak, so it took him some time to learn to let go and let someone else produce the album.

“I met with Lloyd, who was the session leader, one time and then I kept in touch with him. He conveyed what we talked about to the other guys and by the time we all got in the studio they all were familiar with it. I didn’t go in there and tell them exactly what they had to play. They had a road map but they could get there any way they wanted. I normally would have said ‘Let’s make the melody like this,’ but I knew these guys would come up with something as good or better than I could.

“I had to make sure that I stepped back and let the masters do what they do and not get in their way. We did it the way it was done in their day (1960s), when they were playing on all the top hits for Ray Price and Loretta Lynn, so I just let them do what they do best. It was extremely hard for me to do, but an old dog can learn new tricks. (laughs) Everyone was in the studio at the same time, and I love it that way. That’s the way, in my opinion, that records should be made.”

While Dale isn’t sure the label will release a single, they have discussed several different tunes have “single” potential. So could it be that the man who isn’t happy with country radio might get played on country radio?

“They could make it at least accessible to Top 40 radio,” Dale says. “My main complaint about Top 40 is that it doesn’t seem to make room for anything that is not Top 40 — that genre and that specific sound. Sonically this record is good, and so are the songs we chose. It’s just gonna take radio stations giving it a chance; let the people hear it and tell them what they think.”

‘Carryin’ On’ gives fans a baker’s dozen of traditional country tunes, from the opening title cut to the final song, ‘Hello, I’m an Old Country Song.’ Most come from the life and experiences of the singer.

“I was in Australia when I wrote the title cut,” Dale remembers. “It had been a fun night but not a fun morning. I wrote that song the morning after! I write a lot of my songs onstage, where people give me a lot of ideas. One night somebody came up and asked us to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and we did, and then I asked her what she wanted me to sing. She didn’t really know so she just said ‘Whatever.’ That’s another song on this album.”

‘Heart of Stone’ is a beautiful song with a definite somber tone to it. “That was more introspective for me,” Dale admits. “It’s about love and personal relationships, and is a true story. I was in London and I was missing someone. Then I came back home and a lot of things were different. I went in the house and pictures were gone, and she was gone too.”

The final cut on the CD, ‘Hello, I’m an Old Country Song,’ was written with friend and songwriter Chris Wall. “Chris had the idea for that one,” Dale says. “We went over to his house, had dinner, got to drinkin’, and he said ‘I’ve got this song I’m working on,’ and he pulled it out. Chris is one of the few people I co-write with; he’s an old friend and great writer. So we started working on it and it was pretty easy to write. With these musicians that were on this record, it felt like the right song to do.”

Although the album has just been released, Dale has been playing the songs on tour for awhile. “This album has more requested songs than I’ve ever had in a record, so there’s definitely a big difference in this record than any of my other ones,” he says. “The most requested is ‘Tequila, Whiskey and Beer,” and then ‘Flower in Your Hair’ is second. Then it kinda runs neck and neck with ‘Whatever,’ ‘Brown Bottle’ and ‘Heart of Stone.’ ‘I’ll Show You’ is also popular but it’s so fast I get some of those words mixed up sometimes,” he adds with a laugh.

Dale has a goal for his new project, and it’s really something he’s been saying for a long time. “I actually hope this record helps get notoriety in the mainstream, to let folks know that there is a place for this type of music in the mainstream world. I think there is a lot more opportunity for it to be heard these days, through internet radio that people listen to at work, and on satellite radio. I think there is a wider audience than there ever has been. I don’t think I’m ready to make them shift, but I think there is a shift going on, which makes fans aware that there is an option when it comes to listening to country music.”

The singer has had his share of heartbreak and hard knocks over the years, but with the exception of a short period of time when he lost his fiancé in a car accident, he has continued to record and move forward with his music.

“I do it because the audience is there. It’s not a million people but it’s easily a quarter million people out there that like what I do and support me world wide, and that’s enough. As long as there’s people coming to my shows and buying CDs, I don’t have to have number one records or million selling albums. This is what I do. When I start doing shows and nobody comes, or no one buys my records, then I will end up doing something else. But I’d never stop playing music. I’d do it for free and do something else to make a living.”

‘Carryin’ On’ was released August 24. Dale will perform on the Grand Ole Opry September 9, and will participate in various shows during the Americana Music festivities in Nashville September 8-11.

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