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Are you forlorn about what has happened to country music? Then look no further than Amber Digby.
Amber Digby’s gift is being able to hand select classic country songs from the past that never became full-on classics, but should have. And then with her band Midnight Flyer, Amber makes these songs classics by the power of her pure country voice. It’s part album making, part archeology dig, and then she adds a few newer offerings and self-penned songs to the mix for good measure. Helping her along the way is an A-list cast of contributors that includes duet partners Vince Gill and Randy Lindley, steel guitar player Lloyd Green, and piano playing Hall of Famer Hargus “Pig” Robbins, just to name a few.
It takes a certain amount of courage to make an album like The World You’re Living In–so unapologetically steeped in the traditions of country music, specifically many of the traditions that set Texas country apart from other classic sounds originating further east or west. Making an album that is so blind to trends or trade industry desires, without a care if 98.1 will show courtesy to it in their rotation is a sign of character from Amber and co-producer Justin Trevino. Besides, she’ll get plenty of love from the Texas country radio stations that matter. Amber Digby’s country music pedigree runs deep, instilling in her the inability to compromise. Her mother, father, and many other members of her immediate family were professional musicians, and an album like this only gets made when a sincere passion for the roots of country is ever-present.
The way to pull off making a successful classic country album these days is to make sure to include the right amount of spice. Amber Digby and company do this and show wisdom on The World You’re Living In in both the song selection and the style of approach for each track. They start with a breadth of material that goes from country Outlaw Johnny Paycheck’s “It Won’t Be Long (And I’ll Be Hating You)” all the way to the classic country pop of Lynn Anderson’s “How Can I Unlove You.” Throughout is a cohesion built from an insistence to build out from the fiddle/steel guitar/true country sound. Amber’s not afraid to mix it up though, like on her rendition of the Jack Greene/Connie Smith number “If It Ain’t Love (Let’s Leave It Alone)” where the Wah-Wah pedal makes an appearance and revives the late 70′s Jerry Reed funky country feel, keeping the album fresh and delivering one of the work’s funnest tracks.
It’s hard to gloss over the fact that Vince Gill thinks so highly of Amber Digby that he appears on this album in a duet of The Warren Brothers’ “The One I Can’t Live Without.” The two met backstage at The Grand Ole Opry when Amber introduced herself as a fawning fan, and was floored to find out Vince was a big fan of her. They ended up writing “One More Thing I’d Wished I’d Said” together– a track that appears on this album and Gill’s Guitar Slinger.
As with all classic country albums, you must preface it by saying that it’s probably not for everyone. But the world we’re living in would sound a lot better if The World You’re Living In was the industry standard for what country music was supposed to be.
1 3/4 of 2 guns up.
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(Carryin’ On is on sale right now for $6.99.)
I’ll be strait up honest with you. When it comes to Dale Watson, there is no bigger fan than your lovable, huggable Triggerman. However when it comes to his albums, it can be…well…hit and miss.
I thought with his last two albums, they had their moments, but the concept got in the way of the music. Surfing through the rest of his discography can be difficult. There’s so many albums, some of which are unavailable, others that you can only get in Europe. And all the time you see the question from newly christened Dale Watson disciples, “What are his best albums? Tell me where to start.” That is such a hard question. My answer is usually, Live in London, but it’s a live album, so does that really count?
So when Dale releases a new album, my expectations are tempered. Then it was revealed that Dale had used Nashville musicians while recording the album in Nashville. Things were not setting up well. Then an early reviewer lamented his polished approach to this album.
But I’ll tell you what people, I like this album. I like it a lot. This is the best Dale Watson album put out in years. It’s not groundbreaking, it won’t be an influential work. But for capturing the essence of what makes Dale Watson an artist for the ages, Carryin’ On does a better job than many of its predecessors.
Dale is a man of context. I saw him last year at Pickathon in the early afternoon on a concert stage, and the mood was lost. Dale is a honky tonker. And though he’s made a career out of anti-Nashville songs and sentiment, he’s always been slick in his live presentation. He’s a slick guy, with his slicked back hair, suave stance, and smooth guitar licks. His dirty albums were made that way without choice, or from bad decisions.
I wouldn’t want every Dale Watson album to sound as slick as Carryin’ On, but for this time and place, it’s near perfect. The standout in this album is Dale’s voice. He exhibits superlative control and wide wisdom singing his parts that come across confidently, without any sign of weakness or chipped paint even after years of honky tonkin’ and road doggin’. If Nashville had tried to strap an Auto-tuner to him, he would have fried the machine from the complexity of runs, and the diversity of volume and note changes just in a simple, short phrase. Nashville younguns take note of a master.
Nashville session players Lloyd Green, Pig Robbins, and Pete Wade do a bang up job fitting tones and textures to Dale’s songwriting, and rise to the occasion of accompanying Dale’s masterful vocal performances. Sure this is the Nashville sound, but it’s the Nashville sound of 20 years ago, giving it a uniqueness and heart that pulls a nostalgic feeling from the REAL country fan. There’s a lot of by-gone Merle Haggard and George Jones in this album that make it fit like a familiar ball cap, nice and snug into your little music world.
“Hey Brown Bottle” and “I’ll Show Ya” are instant Dale classics, destined to be requested without rest at Austin’s Continental Club or Broken Spoke for years to come, and together they bookmark the breath of Dale’s style and ability. Title track “Carryin’ On” grows on you like Dale’s smile that makes every woman wonder where his relationship status stands as he flashes it across a two-stepping floor full of Lone Star beer. And “Hello, I’m An Old Country Song” takes a more wise, but still pointed and poinignant approach to Dale’s protest of the direction of country, and will fit strongly beside “Nashville Rash” and others as a solid signature song.
There are some weakly-written songs here, but in most cases the simplicity of the songwriting is drowned by Dale’s dizzying vocals. Though “Flowers in Your Hair” offers little lyrically, your mind tends to focus on Dales voice and the words are forgiven or overlooked. One thing I didn’t like about the Nashville session approach was the drums. With your finger on fast forward through the weaker tracks, you wouldn’t notice it. But taken as a whole, the lack of any creativity or direction with the production keeps reminding me of when Ween as a gimmick went to Nashville and recorded 12 Golden Country Greats. More could have been done to separate the underlying sounds in this album to help set the individual tracks apart and keep it fresh throughout.
Still, this album works for me. Dale heard something in his head, set out to do it, and I think it was accomplished, and accomplished well. There are plenty of more raw-sounding Dale Watson albums out there. I am going to enjoy this one for what it brings to the table: some great new songs, a slick approach, and Dale’s spectacular voice now bottled in its purest form for eternity.
Two guns up!
You can preview tracks or purchase Carryin’ On by CLICKING HERE.
Dale Watson has ready a new album called Carryin’ On, and it will be released on August 24th via Koch Records.
Dale has made a country music career out of defying convention, but he defies his own convention with this new album. As discussed in Separating Music City From Music Row, the writer of “Nashville Rash” recorded the album at Nashville’s Hilltop Studios, and used legendary Nashville session players Lloyd Green, Hargus Robbins, and Pete Wade.
From The Tennessean:
“People say, ‘What are you doing? You hate Nashville. But I don’t hate Nashville. I hate what has been done to the music that I love, the music that came from Nashville and that was invented in Nashville. I’m 100 percent inspired by what Nashville was.”
Apparently Koch Records did not pick Dale, Dale picked them. He funded the album himself, and then sought out distribution.
“I knew the only way to make a record like this was to keep the labels out of it. I financed it myself. It cost me a lot of money, but I don’t do this for the money. This was the dream record for me. It’s been my dream to get a record done in this town, in Nashville, in the way I knew it could be done.”
Carryin’ On can be pre-ordered HERE, and as album artwork, track list and previews get populated, you should be able to find them there as well.
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