Dale Watson: From the Cradle to the Grave

Believe me: when Dale Watson sings something, it stays sung.

Dale Watson

From the Cradle to the Grave

Label: Hyena
US Release Date: 2007-04-24
UK Release Date: 2007-04-23

Okay, Dale Watson hates country music. Or, rather, he hates today's country music. He thinks it's "crap", the songs are stupid and the singers are bad, Nashville has lost its heart, all that stuff. On the front of this record, he's posing with a tombstone that reads "Country Music R.I.P."

This is a very fashionable viewpoint, one shared by old-timers and hipsters and longhairs alike. I don't happen to agree with it, because I hear plenty of good inventive fun country music being produced all over the place, some of which certainly deserves comparison to all the old dusty gold-standard classic stuff. Also, people have been complaining about country having lost its soul for more than 50 years now.

But I get what he means, and he means it -- Watson's actually quit the music business instead of compromising his stern vision, and he sounds like he'd do it again. And then there's the fact that it's kinda difficult to argue with a man who sounds like God. Dale Watson has a big deep authoritarian voice that can sound resigned or righteous or outraged or horny or devotional, depending on the needs of the song -- Johnny Cash comes up as a comparable, but also Tennesee Ernie Ford and Ray Price. Believe me: when Dale Watson sings something, it stays sung.

Watson's pretty serious this time. So much so that he took his band up to Johnny Knoxville's cabin in Hendersonville, Tennessee -- a cabin that once belonged to John R. Cash -- to record the damn thing. So much so that there are only 10 songs, none longer than 3:17. And so much so that he's jumped over to the funky diverse roots-blues-and-jazz Hyena Records so he doesn't have to be beholden to anyone.

So when the first track here kicks in, with its chugga-chugga shuffle beat and its brief laconic fiddle line, and Watson's voice comes sailing in like a big Viking warship, it's hard not to think of it as a major statement. "Justice For All" is country music the way Dale Watson thinks country music should be, even down to the "Ring of Fire"-like semi-mariachi horns that come blasting in to bolster the rest of the tune. It's an awfully convincing performance -- so convincing, in fact, that one almost forgets that the song is actually an impassioned plea in favor of capital punishment. (Well, maybe only for those who kill children.)

Some of this stuff is straight-up gangsta country; "Yellow Mama" is narrated by a murderer who forsees his end in the electric chair, and "Time Without You" is full of bleak Zen macho: "I curse my healthy heart for keepin' the blood runnin' through my veins / I open my eyes each mornin' and I regret to greet the day." Other songs are a bit more sensitive; he frees his faithless lady in "Why Oh Why Live a Lie" and pays homage to a suicidal family member on the title track.

This is all very serious business. Sadly, this poker-faced-ness leads to the album's weakest point: a humor deficiency. Watson only sounds like he's having fun on one song, a satire called "Hollywood Hillbilly." It's not my favorite track -- too much har-de-har Blue Collar Comedy faux-populism for me -- but it is the liveliest thing here, with some great guitar interplay between Watson and Don Don Pawlak, so I'm going to give it a pass. But if the other songs here had any kind of lightness to them, this would be voted out in a heartbeat.

But one does not come to Dale Watson for fun. One comes for depth of feeling (there's so much depth in "You Always Get What You Always Got" that it sounds like infinity), for overamped sincerity, and for hardcore country roots. And that shit is all present and accounted for. Dale Watson might be wrong overall about country music, but his red blood is what pulses through the genre's big ol' heart. Long may he wave.






Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.