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Dale Watson

Saturday, May 29; Off Broadway

If attempts to define alternative country as a genre are mostly futile, the critics, fans and bands loyal to the music share a single ideology: Nashville sucks. As tiresome as that refrain can be, it's most annoying coming from those only marginally or superficially connected with the sound and spirit of country music. Dale Watson has built a persona, if not a career, on hating the Music City star system, but he's got a right to his resentment. With his sonorous baritone, silver-dollar-studded Telecaster, and James Dean-meets-John Doe sex appeal, Watson is a honky-tonker capable of writing, singing and playing songs that cut as deeply and ring as true as those by his heroes Merle Haggard, Lefty Frizzell and Faron Young.

In 2001, after a string of no-frills, hard-truckin' honky-tonk recordings, Watson made the kind of album country music alone permits. The year before, his fiancée Terry Herbert had died in a car accident on a Texas highway; shook to the core, Watson nearly drank and drugged himself to death before translating his sorrow, terror and denial into music. If the definition of sentimental is unearned emotion, then Every Song I Write Is for You may be the least sentimental album in history. Though the country metaphors are here -- the memory-drowning drink, the deals with the Devil -- the pathos is simply a fact. "Face the truth, you know she's gone," Watson sings. "But they don't know what's holding me/I see your face in every face I see." Watson isn't alone in exploring the hard emotional truths of country music, but few would dare tell them with such conviction and catharsis.

 
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