[31 May 2009]
David Allan Coe posited in his “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” that the perfect country song had to be comprised of a bouillabaisse of elements, including mentions of Mama, getting drunk, prison, and trains. There is a strong argument that trucks and/or trucking should be included in those criteria. Trucking songs have been a staple of country music pretty much since there were trucks to be singing about. Ted Daffan is credited with writing the first trucking song, entitled “Truck Drivin’ Blues”. It was a hit for country swing artist Cliff Bruner in 1939 and established a genre that seems to go in and out of fashion every fifteen years or so. Dave Dudley had a huge hit in 1963 with “Six Days on the Road”, and C.W. McCall did the same with the song “Convoy” in 1975. Most recently, Jeremy Tepper and his Diesel Only label have carried the torch for the genre, releasing three volumes of their Rig Rock series, distributing the recent Sundazed series of trucking re-issues, as well as releasing a Red Simpson compilation in conjunction with Razor and Tie.
Dale Watson is a staunch traditionalist when it comes to country music. As you might surmise, he is as dissatisfied as any other true artist about what passes for country music today. He’s gone so far as to coin the term ‘Ameripolitan’ for his music; a name he considers apt for a contemporary artist making original music with a prominent roots influence. For a man as true to tradition as Watson, it’s hardly a surprise that he has released records comprised entirely of trucking songs. The first volume of The Truckin’ Sessions was released in 1998, and Watson and his band promoted the record by undertaking a tour comprised entirely of Southern truck stops. It proved to be a great success and despite being widely held as one of the great hopes for traditional country music and selling a fair amount of records since his 1995 debut, The Truckin’ Sessions remains his biggest seller.
Both volumes of The Truckin’ Sessions are comprised purely of Watson-penned tunes, so don’t think that Watson is phoning in a batch of covers. The first volume of the series didn’t sell through the benefit of a movie tie-in; it sold to a lot of traditional fans and a lot of truckers because Watson knows what he’s talking about. His father was a truck driver, and Watson himself maintains all the proper licenses for commercial trucking, even driving a UPS truck in recent years during a hiatus from the music industry. Rest assured that when Watson sings about “Me and Freddie and Jake”, he’s not using Wikipedia to get his lingo straight.
Dale Watson covers all angles of the trucking life on The Truckin’ Sessions Vol 2. “Hero” is a poignant portrayal of an overloaded trucker beleaguered by rain that’s surprisingly enjoyable to the layman. “Let This Trucker Go” treads similar ground, but its not all Red Sovine-dappled pathos here. Watson’s band the Lone Stars is a fearsome unit, but lead guitarist Redd Volkaert does yeoman duty, making tracks like “Truck Stop in LaGrange” swing as much as instrumentals like “Texas Boogie” sing. Redd does double-duty with Merle Haggard, but Watson holds his own, trading licks and showing that he is as in touch with his inner Don Rich as he is Buck Owens. It’s not all smooth driving, though, as a couple of the tracks do get a little much. For instance, “Truckin’ Queen” does not revolve around a female so much as a cross-dressing long-distance trucker. It wouldn’t be too insufferable save for its Sovine-esque narrative quality that wears thin about halfway through. It’s not totally without merit, as it does have catchy guitar and fiddle parts to get people on the dance floor, but it’s hardly a high point of the record.
The Truckin’ Sessions isn’t necessarily high concept, but it’s hardly lowbrow. Fans of traditional country music, trucking, or maybe if Watson’s real lucky, both, will enjoy The Trucking Sessions Vol. 2 wholeheartedly.