LIVE: Dale Watson & His Lone Stars @ The Linda, 7/13/15
Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Ed Conway
Classic baritone voice and killer guitar chops? Check. Original songs that range from humorous to heartbreaking and imbued with a proud Ameripolitan ethos and sound? Check. A veteran, road-tested backing band that astounds? Check. A rapport with an audience that keeps ’em hollerin’ (and Instagramming) for more? Check. Signs autographs and poses for pictures with fans for an hour after the show? Check. Call him insane? Only if you have lost your marbles and taste in good – no, make that great – music. Dale Watson, raised in Alabama and based in Austin, is the real deal. Check.
Moved by the energy of a standing-room-only crowd, Dale Watson & His Lone Stars brought the deep sounds of Austin to Albany’s The Linda on a Monday night. Call Me Insane, Watson’s new album on Red House Records, was the centerpiece of the evening (nine songs were drawn from it). The title cut, a simmering crockpot of moodiness featuring some tasty pedal steel by Don Pawlak, was a perfect opener. An impromptu Lone Star Beer pitch (“Lone Star – it’s the only beer that whitens your teeth and creates brain cells!”) segued into a bopping tribute to The Possum (aka George Jones), “Jonesin’ for Jones”, a fine showcase for the energetic rhythm section of Mike Bernal (drums) and Chris Crepps (upright bass and backing vocals).
Leave it to Watson to take a detour from any notion of a set list per se: a fan’s call for “Carryin on This Way” was satisfied immediately, replete with some fine chicken-pickin’ solos by Watson on his coin-adorned Telecaster. “We’ve got a rowdy crowd!” announced a grinning Watson, who introduced his talented band before honoring a request for “Exit 109” from the Truckin’ Sessions Trilogy. New songs such as the hopeful “Heaven’s Gonna Have a Honky Tonk,” the Dean Martin-meets-Ernest Tubb “Everybody’s Somebody in Luchenbach, Texas” and “Burden of the Cross” (a self-described “dark song” that evoked the restlessness of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash) fit in seamlessly with enduring compositions such as “A Real Country Song,” “I Lie When I Drink” and “My Baby Makes Me Gravy.” Unfazed by a small group of boisterous, selfie-taking twenty-somethings who probably had just discovered their first beer, Watson leaned into the audience to hear a woman’s impassioned request for her favorite song. “I didn’t know I had recorded that song!” Watson chuckled before counting off the slow waltz of “You Are My Friend.”
Hearing Pownal and Watson peel out in tandem or solo during “Birmingham Breakdown” got the crowd revved up again. Catching his breath, Watson gave shout-outs to two of his heroes, Ray Price (Watson’s own “I’m Through Hurtin'”) and Carl Perkins (the Sun Records-inspired “I’m Gonna Start Livin'”). Tony Joe White’s “Mama, Don’t Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to Be Babies” featured something not seen everyday: a pedal steel solo played with one’s teeth! A front row of fans from Vermont got the treat of hearing their request, “Flowers in Your Hair” from 2010’s Carryin’ On, too. “The Linda’s a great first date!” declared Watson prior to “A Day at a Time,” the Bakersfield-flavored cut about “which bill to pay” from the new album.
A standing ovation lasting over a minute brought the quartet back up for not one, not two, but five encores. A conga line of dancers made their way through the audience during the request for “South of Round Rock, Texas”, a bouncy shuffle in the spirit of Don Walser and Bob Wills. “Crocodile Tears” dialed it back to a slow dance tempo; “Whiskey or God,” a classic Watson number, pondered the secular and sacred in equal measure, and Bernal’s empathetic fills were noteworthy. Watson had the entire house clapping and singing along to “Where Do You Want It?”, which was inspired by a Billy Joe Shaver story of self-defense. “Don’t Let the Screen Door Hit Ya,” rockabilly with a warning, inspired two bold women to clamber up on the stage and dance around a bemused Crepps and winking Watson. Picture that image when the broadcast airs later this year on WAMC-FM.
Opening act Lara Hope & the Ark-Tones out of Kingston made a strong impression with their take on rockabilly and jump blues. A vivacious singer who brings to mind Candye Kane, Hope and her trio (Matt “The Knife” Goldspaugh on upright bass; Chris Heltzman on guitar; and Dave Tetrault on drums) had the crowd clapping along within a minute of “Heartbeat,” an uptempo number with a catchy harmony chorus. Donning an orange acoustic emblazoned with her last name, Hope thanked Dale Watson for the honor of opening the evening before the aptly-named “Luck Maker,” the rocking title cut to their 2014 release that mixed some Tex-Mex rhythms with some Stray Cat strut.
Introduced as a “Monday night drinking song” by Hope, “Great Minds Always Drink Alike” (title attributed to “Married with Children” icon Al Bundy) tapped into the spirit of the room perfectly, while “I Believe You, Liar” prompted several couples to dance off to the side of the stage. “Floatin’ Down the River” borrowed the sparse beat of Little Willie John’s “Fever” and the skewed sensibility of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”.
The boom-chicka-boom rhythms of “Whiskey Pick” brought the crowd to their feet, clapping and singing along as Hope mingled with them on the floor, singing one sly double entendre after another about the effects of alcohol on the prowess of guitarists, including Heltzman, who shrugged off the critique by playing one cool solo after another.
DALE WATSON & HIS LONE STARS QUASI SET LIST (several requests were honored)
Call Me Insane
Jonesin’ for Jones
Carryin’ On This Way
Heaven’s Gonna Have a Honky Tonk
Everybody’s Somebody in Luchenbach, Texas
A Real Country Song
I Lie When I Drink
My Baby Makes Me Gravy
Burden of the Cross
You Are My Friend
I Drink to Remember, You Drink to Forget
I’m Through Hurtin’
I’m Gonna Start Livin’
Mama, Don’t Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to Be Babies (Tony Joe White)
Flowers in Your Hair
A Day at a Time
South of Round Rock, Texas
Whiskey or God
Where Do You Want It?
Don’t Let the Screen Door Hit Ya
LARA HOPE & THE ARK-TONES SET LIST
Let My Orchard Be (?)
Great Minds Always Drink Alike
I Believe You, Liar
Floatin’ Down the River
I’m the One
David Singer’s review at The Daily Gazette