Gene Watson - My Heroes Have Always Been Country

Fourteen Carat Music

Gene Watson is sort of a litmus test of country fan-dom. To younger or casual fans, he is—at most—an old guy who used to have some hit records. Long-time hard-core country fans, however, revere Watson as one of the genre’s truly golden voices, perhaps the best of Lefty Frizzell’s many disciples. He’s always had one of the warmest, most accessible voices in the country field, and at 70 years old, he’s singing better than ever on this beautiful album. Picking great songs by Merle Haggard, Hank Cochran, Nat Stuckey, Dottie West, Willie Nelson, Wayne Carson and Glenn Martin is a sign of absolute good taste. As the title suggests, the songs are associated with Gene’s country heroes, but more than that, you can consider these songs as classic American standards; an important part of the ‘Great American Songbook,’ because really that’s exactly what they are. Over the past few years several pop singers have paid tribute to that ‘Great American Songbook’—but they mainly concentrated on Tin Pan Alley and show tunes. But these classic country tunes—Make The World Go Away, Long Black Veil, Walk Through This World With Me and The Party’s Over—featured here, should also be recognised as an integral part of that ‘Great American Songbook’ and as such, this album should be widely acclaimed—and not just within country music circles.

The depth of material, coupled with Watson’s aching barroom voice proves to be a perfect match. Strong lyrics and impressive vocal performances are complemented by intelligent and restrained musical arrangements … an education in classic traditional country music for anyone who listens. There’s a relaxed version of the George Jones’ hit Walk Through This World With Me and a catchy, understated rendition of Willie Nelson’s Turn Out The Lights (The Party’s Over). Merle Haggard’s I Forget You Everyday is an intimate torch song that is spiced with steel as Watson tackles the emotions that arise when love goes awry. The Hag connection is maintained with Hank Cochran’s It’s Not Love (But It’s Not Bad) which paints a pained portrait of love shrouded in doubt as perfectly as any song you’ll ever hear. Gene makes Jeanne Pruett’s Count Me Out his very own, no mean feat when you consider that the late Marty Robbins recorded the original 1966 hit version—the vulnerability in Gene’s voice chimes as true as the clink of a quarter in an old jukebox.

From the pensive opener Here Comes My Baby Back Again to the spirited Hello Trouble, Gene Watson croons through this set of love lost and gained romantic entanglements like the true vocal master that he is, illustrating why he’s country’s most enduring and successful male artist of the past 40 years. These feel like more than songs; they feel like treasures … timeless treasures to be cherished and listened to over and over again.