Dale Watson isn't one to uphold the music industry's status quo. He's moving forward on his own terms and true to his own convictions. Even with frequent proclamations declaring him one of country music's last authentic voices (like that in Crazy Again--a recent documentary on Watson's life--when a fan declares, "son, you play country like country was when country was country"), Watson is done with the "C" word and what it's come to represent in modern times. So much so that he's created his own genre, simply called Ameripolitan. In a recent posting on his website (www.dalewatson.com), Dale explains it like this: "I've been trying to come up with a name the best describes this music that me and folks similar do. When folks ask, I hesitate, down right embarrassed really, to say country. I didn't used to be that way, but with the change in country, the term doesn't mean the same as it used to. If you say traditional, or old, or western swing most folks think 'retro' and dismiss it without hearing it. I wanted a name that didn't say country anything and didn't give anyone a preconceived idea. I came up with Ameripolitan. I even put it in Wikipedia defined as: Original music with 'prominent' roots influence." And so it goes with Dale Watson, the kind of unparalleled iconoclast that's far too rare in music today.
To that end, Dale Watson is heading into 2007 with a full head of steam. His latest album, From The Cradle To The Grave, hits stores on April 24th through a new deal with the critically-acclaimed and musically diverse independent record label, HYENA Records. The story behind the recording is as mythic as any in Watson's already deep and fascinating discography. Having taken six months off in January 2006 to relocate his family to Baltimore, Watson was preparing his return to music when old fan and friend Johnny Knoxville offered up his cabin in the Tennessee mountains for the band to reconvene and rehearse. However, this wasn't just any mountain home. The cabin Johnny Knoxville was offering just so happened to be previously owned by the one and only Johnny Cash. Watson, of course, jumped at the opportunity. It was also suggested by Knoxville that Dale record a new album while on his visit. The idea was at first dismissed due to the logistics of getting recording equipment up to the cabin. That problem would be quickly solved though when Charlie Boswell, head of the digital media and entertainment unit at Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), offered to send a complete recording facility. The next hurdle would be songs. Dale hadn't been writing and therefore wasn't prepared with an album's worth of new material.
"I got up there and basically wrote ten songs in three days," remembers Watson. "At first I was adamant about not writing anything even remotely reminiscent to Johnny Cash as I figured I'd be instantly dismissed for trying to cop his vibe, but his presence was so strong up there that I decided why fight it, let the chips fall where they may and go with the feeling."
From The Cradle To The Grave is alive indeed with the spirit of Johnny Cash. While he's always been a hero to Dale Watson, Cash's influence was but a subtle element
On the aforementioned "Justice For All," which will be the album's first single and video (starring Desperate Housewives star James Denton), Watson confronts the ageless moral conflict between revenge and forgiveness. He sings: "An eye for an eye would leave the whole world blind, forgiveness is the way, but I can't forgive his crime, and if I had the chance in truth I'd have to say, I'd gun that bastard down with a smile on my face."
"I wrote 'Justice For All' after hearing the story of a guy who kidnapped and murdered a little girl," explains Watson. "I have daughters, so I could put myself in the shoes of the girl's father and feel his need for justice and revenge."
It's not the only time death rears its head on From The Cradle To The Grave. On the title track, Watson reflects on his cousin's suicide, a subject he also struggled with directly in his own life and which was well documented in the Crazy Again documentary. Ultimately though, Dale finds light in the darkness and insight in the pain. On "Yellow Mama," Watson writes from the perspective of a man sentenced to death in the infamous Alabama electric chair named after its bright yellow paint job. Despite the weight of those three songs, perhaps the album's most haunting track is "Tomorrow Never Comes." Beginning with the open-ended lyric, "The world could end tomorrow, the world could end today, time is only borrowed, a debt we'll have to pay," Watson is oblique and wary, while his band matches the song's intensity with juxtaposed minor chord flourishes of pedal steel, fiddle and acoustic guitar.
No Dale Watson album would be complete without songs of lovers scorned, redeemed and scorned again. From The Cradle To The Grave has its share of these gems. "It's Not Over Now" grapples with coming of age and past regrets, while "You Always Get What You Always Got" could be the same protagonist from the former song only this time sending hard-earned wisdom to those following in his footsteps: "You're burning the candle at both ends son, when you gonna learn that the fire is hot, if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got."
"Time Without You" might be the best example to define the newly acknowledged Ameripolitan sound. It's pure Dale Watson. With a husky, but sweeping melody, classic Johnny Cash rolling train rhythm and a evocative combination of pedal steel and fiddle, Watson bares his soul in matters of the heart both timely and timeless. Like the majority of songs on the album, it clocks in at just under three minutes. A small point, but one that calls attention to the economy in Watson's writing; not a note is wasted or a phrase overdone. He cuts straight to the chase, directly and succinctly.
As has always been Dale Watson's style, he'll take to the road in 2007 spreading the good word about his new album, From The Cradle To The Grave, across the United States and Europe. Having been touched by the spirit of Johnny Cash in the legend's old Tennessee cabin, Watson has delivered an album of inspired songs that document the Ameripolitan sound. But whatever genre it's called, there's no denying that Dale Watson is an American music original and his musical vision is only just beginning to be heard around the world.