Two years is an eternity for Dale Watson, the country troubadour who made it a habit to release at least two records a year through the bulk of the 2010s. Watson slowed his roll in 2018, leaving his longtime home of Austin, Texas, for Memphis, Tennessee. His move was spurred by Austin's plague of condos and multi-use properties -- the Broken Spoke, one of the city's prime honky-tonks and a regular stomping ground for Watson, is now dwarfed by modern architecture on both sides of its old-fashioned dancehall. In Memphis, he recognized a city that was intent on nurturing its roots instead of trampling them. Revitalized by his new city, Watson wrote a set of vibrant, funny numbers -- songs that sound like throwbacks to the heyday of hardwood juke joints and well-worn jukeboxes, but enlivened with a knowing wink. Truth be told, only a handful of the tunes truly seem informed by Memphis; for instance, the swinging Tupelo Mississippi & a 57 Fairlane, with its raucous horn section, recalls the city's glory days of the '50s, as do the repeated allusions to Johnny Cash (Johnny and June makes an explicit lyrical tie, while Run Away functions on a pure musical level). Nevertheless, Watson is clearly reinvigorated by his new surroundings, writing lean and lively songs that touch upon every one of his musical obsessions, whether it's Bakersfield twang, truck drivers, outlaws, barroom weepers, or hopping swing. It all adds up to one of Watson's most satisfying records -- which is saying something, considering how many albums he has.
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