While Dale Watson claims "the music I do isn't a retro thing," there's no denying that his astonishing sound harks back to one of country's golden eras: the amped-up honky-tonk of Bakersfield. Watson's second album, Blessed or Damned (Hightone), finds him serving up another impressive batch of sly originals, encoring the mocking tone of his debut's "Nashville Rash" with "A Real Country Song," as in, "Mr. DJ, won't you play me . . . " Like most people, Watson bemoans what's happened in Nashville: the heavily processed sound, the stale formulas, the trend of covering old rock songs, and the loss of traditional subject matter, like truck driving and his native Texas. On his current tour he's been playing at truck stops by day and clubs at night. He sounds like a strong candidate for nostalgia-sucking jerk, but because of his terrific singing, smart writing, and the amazing twin guitar leads he plays with Dave Biller, his historically informed music gets by easily. Buck Owens, George Jones, Merle Haggard, and Johnny Horton can all be heard in Watson's music, but he has his own shtick. Onstage he's witty, assured, and quick to throw out caustic postmodern barbs, but what ultimately sets him apart from the neotrad pack is unswerving love of the music he plays, whether he's doing originals or punchy covers. Saturday, 3:45 PM, Chicago Country Music Festival, Grant Park, Taste Stage, Michigan and Congress; 744-3370. Saturday, 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 525-2508.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Beth Herzhoft.