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Published: 2008/05/01
by Randy Ray

Dale Watson, Rhythm Room, Phoenix, AZ 4/22

“Bending my elbow or my knees I’m gonna drink until my conscience bleeds”“Whiskey or God,” Dale Watson

They used to call this sort of sound outlaw music, and, I guess, they (you know, “THEY”) still do along the modern wagon trail. Dale Watson and his band are equal parts country, hillbilly audacity, old school rock n’ brash n’ balls, and a whole lotta punk attitude. I’m not much of a current country admirer, and neither are most jamband fans, but I am a huge fan of well-written songs, an inspired band, and a leader who knows how to gather the audience into his palms and take them on a bit of an unexpected adventure.

And Watson does that all the way down the line. His rapport with the Rhythm Rooma great joint to see a band with its intimacy, good acoustics and warm environmentaudience was genuine and naturalalmost as if he was playing at some weird inbred family reunion of no-nonsense, kick-ass, hillbilly country music rather than a formal concert event in which an artist delivers a standard repertoire and repartee to his fans.

Watson ripped his way through a mind-boggling 20 songs in the first 70 minutes alone, and he did this while chugging back numerous shots of audience-procured, purchased and promulgated booze (in between beers passed up to the stage for he and his band). What was most incredible was that a) I no longer drink, so it was all beautifully surreal to me and I just laughed, b) the audience would pass up a written requestanother wonderful old school bit of funand Watson would briefly utter out the name of the song with an additional quip and, c) the band would SLAM into the song with expert precision and a mighty wallop that belied the fact that these boys HAD to be liquored up Big Time.

What is also quite evident is that Watson is not an acquired taste like other more subtle artistes. You either get Watson right away or you probably need to go back to the sonic drawing board to remember that good music comes from the heart and soul and is filled with honest emotion, good humor, and plenty of good ole rancorous venom. Country, like rock, the blues, and hip-hop (I won’t even mention its inept cracker brotha from the other side of the tracksthe insipid indie schlock), shares a common traitwailing about the Man, a woman who done him wrong, traveling on the road, and stupid liquor songs, y’all.

The title track from 2006’s Whiskey or God opened the show, and then the band was off for a mighty run down the outlaw highway as Watson would schuck and jive with no one in particular, slug a shot, drink a beer, tease a band member, make a crack at some fan with a note, and shout out the next request from the audience for his band to play. I counted a heady dozen or so requests played on demandmost impressive as the band could turn on a dime even amongst what appeared to be a drunken, out-of-control party atmosphere. And, you know, it wasn’tWatson knew what he was doing and hewell, he manipulated the situation in such a way that I was amazed at the amount of material great material that he was able to deliver without the set de-evolving into the proverbial train wreckand THAT bit of showmanship is an often very misunderstood skill.

Watson played several numbers from his newest release, From Cradle to the Grave, and also ran through an extensive sampling from his rich catalog“Way Done Texas Way,” was a rollicking stomp, as was “Honky Tonkers Don’t Cry,” with its “Something Stupid” tease via Frank and Nancy Sinatra (props to Maija for calling that hook), “Sweet Jessie Brown,” “Honkiest Tonkiest Beer Joint in Town,” “Country My Ass,” which details in plain words what Watson thinks about the modern country scene (he HATES it, dig), “Chicken Shit Bingo,” aboutwellabout something I have no idea about and I don’t really care but damned if it isn’t one of my new favorite songs, and one of my OLD favoritespure gold in the weird yet brilliant departmentcame our way with “Honky Tonk Wizard of Oz.” Watson said that the song is influenced by tequila, whiskey and beer and then led the audience through the witty chorus of “tequila and whiskey and beerOH MY!” However, for a devotee of Commander Codyspecifically the work of guitar, Bill Kirchenit is the band’s assault on “Exit 109,” which hammers home the goods. The song features elephantine drum work and a fairly slammin’ solo from Herb Belowsky, and the entire melodic structure dipped betwixt punk, outlaw country, old school rawk and a heady mashup of Commander Cody’s “Hot Rod Lincoln” and Dr. John’s version of the N’awlins chestnut, “Aiko Aiko.”

You seeit all comes togethercountry is a very integral ingredient in the diverse jam mix, but more importantly, being an outlaw, drawing outside the lines of the frame, requires a detailed knowledge about the art of fine songcraft that is also quite critical. Watson plays music that will stand the test of time, and he gets ITwhatever the heck IT is in his cosmically in-tune brainwith a flirtatious grin, sharp wit, and a very crack band, that lest we forget as we close the old barn doors, includes Watson on electric guitar, wonderfully-rich lead vocals and lyrical shenanigans, Belowsky behind the kit, the astounding (not hyperboleat one moment, he played his lap steel guitar with his teeth, in tune, in fine form, and with a solo twist), Gene Kurtz on bass and vocals, and Don Raby on five-string fiddle. Get your hillbilly ass out the door. Get in the car. Get on the road. Get to the nearest bar/saloon/whorehouse and check these classy cats out.

- Randy Ray stores his sermons at www.rmrcompany.blogspot.com.

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