First up: our #8 album of 2015, contemporary country elixir Dale Watson's Call Me Insane.
Essential tracks: "A Day at a Time," "Burden of the Cross," "Jonesin' for Jones," "Mamas Don't Let Your Cowboys Grow Up to be Babies"
Dale Watson is country. He calls his particular brand of rootsy country Ameripolitan. Not as rock oriented as Americana, not the uncreative re-hashing of retro country, and certainly not the pop stuff that’s played on the radio, Ameripolitian is new, original music influenced by honky tonk, rockabilly, western swing, and outlaw country.
So like I said, Dale Watson is country.
Call Me Insane touches on all the major tenets of Ameripolitan with subtlety and swagger. “Bug Ya for Love” and “Everybody’s Somebody in Luchenbach, Texas” are fun Western Swing, “I’m Through Hurting” is classic honky tonk, “Burden of the Cross” is dark and folky (like a combination of “Long Black Veil” and “Eyes on the Prize”), and clever “Heavens Going to Have a Honky Tonk” explores the Mexican influences of Texas roots music.
Like classic country of the ‘50s – or even outlaw albums of the ‘70s, which are more tender* than you might think – the album is also filled with simple, affective love songs. “Crocodile Tears” and “Forever Valentine” are the sort of slow dance songs that aren’t written enough anymore. “I Owe it All to You” and “Hot Dang” are a bit more upbeat and fun, the former strengthened by clever lyrics (“she’s mine now/and I owe it all to you”).
The point of Ameripolitan is to create new, fresh country music with a connection to the past. Watson shows this intersection especially on three tracks, heartfelt George Jones tribute “Jonesin’ for Jones,” the Merle Haggard influenced workingman’s blues of “A Day at a Time,” and album ending Waylon Jennings update “Mamas Don’t Let Your Cowboys Grow up to be Babies.”
Call Me Insane, like Marty Stuart’s 2014 double album Saturday Night/Sunday Morning, is keeping country music alive by reinventing the genre, as opposed to uncreatively re-hashing tradition or following the latest trends.
*Evidently “tenderer” is a word, but how clunky is that?
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He was also Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik's music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.