The short version: ‘Call Me Lucky’ isn’t the most essential listen in Dale Watson’s catalog, but it’s still a nice enough listen all the same.
- Favorite tracks: “David Buxkemper,” “Run Away,” “The Dumb Song,” “Tupelo Mississippi & A 57 Fairlane,” “Restless”
- Least favorite track: “Johnny & June”
- Rating: 6/10
The long version: It’s fun to dissect a cultural work of art, but sometimes it’s even more fun to examine the historical influence behind it all.
Dale Watson has quietly been one of the most prolific artists of the 2000s, but now that he’s splitting his time between Austin, Texas and Memphis, Tennessee, he’s taking his time to deliver more fitting material. His new album, Call Me Lucky, was recorded at the Sam Phillips Recording Studio, and he went even further with the experience by recruiting WS Holland, the man who played drums for Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, and Micky Raphael of Willie Nelson’s family band.
Of course, Watson is no stranger to drawing inspiration from the towns he resides in. It wasn’t until he jumped around from Los Angeles to Nashville in the late ’80s and early ’90s that he made his mark in Austin where the rest was history. As such, it’s no surprise to hear that Call Me Lucky is, at its core, a love letter to an important time in country music history.
While I wouldn’t call this album one of the most essential listens of Watson’s catalog, the approach and reverence for the rockabilly era is duly noted on this album, and Watson sounds as great as ever vocally, save for the plodding “Mama’s Smile.”
And with Call Me Lucky, there’s not much to say that hasn’t been said already. For those craving something more in line with Watson’s style on previous works, “Restless” will certainly foot the bill with the swampier outlaw groove. “Run Away” is also another track that sticks out in a good way for being a simple great, smooth country song that Watson handles with ease.
But the Memphis sound is also obviously evident on this album. The nod to the signature Cash boom-chicka-boom beat is almost too obvious on the humorous “Dumb Song.” On the other hand, the combination of horns and jaunty piano on “Tupelo Mississippi & A ’57 Fairlane” tips its hat nicely to classic rock ‘n’ roll. The album’s best moment comes through on an unexpected tribute to a fan though on “David Buxkemper,” a track where Watson’s personality is fully on display.
In terms of presentation, style, and respect for a time period in country music history, Call Me Lucky certainly checks off all of the necessary boxes. One could even argue the presentation is the entire point of this album, something that might help explain why the lyricism leaves a lot to be desired. The album has its moments. The tribute to the title character is “David Buxkemper” is certainly well-executed, and “Run Away” fits nicely with Watson’s eccentric personality. “The Dumb Song” is another example of that, where Watson’s self-awareness only helps to increase the likability of the track.
But there’s also many moments that are simply “alright,” with only a few of the aforementioned tracks really elevating themselves to “great” status. Take “Johnny & June” for example, a song where one can see the point of it from a mile away, probably because it’s been explored before. The track is just one long list of comparisons for how Watson and duet partner Celine Lee go together like the title characters, which sure, sounds nice as a duet, but rarely gives any reason to care.
Other tracks try to go for the same loner spirit of “The Dumb Song” and “Run Away,” but they don’t quite pack the same punch or have the same interesting lyrical twist to really elevate them past “alright” status, a comment that extends toward “Haul Off And Do It,” You Weren’t Supposed To Feel This Good,” and most of the second half to a lesser extent.
Still, there’s a difference overall in how Call Me Lucky fares as an actual album and how it fares in terms of what it was trying to accomplish. In terms of that latter element, Call Me Lucky is an interesting, fun listen that’s still worth checking out from Watson, especially when there’s at least a few standouts in the bunch.