Just ask Austin-based country singing salvation Dale Watson and he'll tell you.
"Ameripolitan," he says. "It's a new genre. It's what country used to be. And that's what you'll hear at my show. It's honky-tonk, western swing, rockabilly, and outlaw." That's what it is, but Watson is quick to tell you what it isn't as well. It may sound classic, but it ain't retro, Jack. Don't confuse the two.
"It may be done in an older pattern," he says. "But it's new songs about new things. For instance, it's trucking songs done in a way that best translates to the trucking music world. It's not retro, it's new music with something new to say. I mean we talk about GPS and ambient sensors, you know, things that are new to truck driving."
Dale Watson and his Lone Stars burst on the scene with the release of "Cheatin' Heart Attack" in 1995. And though the man doesn't cotton to the word "retro" — crooning with a deep, honey-tone baritone under a towering pompadour, and twangin' guitar work — Watson dished out the kind of country music that fans used to get in abundance. Now, with over 20 records to his credit and a little more snow on the roof, Watson still reigns as one of the best county singers ... ever. High praise? Just give him a spin and you'll hear pure American music done right.
Growing up outside Pasadena, Texas, country music was played at home and just about everywhere according to Watson. It got in his blood.
"Where I grew up, it was just part of the atmosphere," he says. "You go in any store or walk in anywhere ... it wasn't on a sound system but just a little radio on the counter. It was good stuff back then, you know, George Jones, and Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash. They were still being played on the radio. It was good listenin'."
Watson and his band are cut from the same cloth and wouldn't sound the least bit out of place coming out of one of those old transistor radios back then.
"We play what used to be country music," Watson says. "It's hard to get that anywhere else these days."
What isn't hard is picking up on Watson's distain for the Nashville star-maker machine; a vacuous, played-out plastic entity that has no use — or respect — for its roots or its authentic purveyors. Still, Watson is cool with its exclusionary practices and his outsider status.
"Yeah," he says. "I'm OK with it. Like you said, I'm an outsider, so I don't get invites to a lot of these things that I don't really care about anyway. CMA, ACM they're all about the record companies and the money that doesn't really make a difference."
Then again there are a few artists floating in the ether that he digs.
"Amber Digby, she's one of the best girl singers out there right now," he says. "Rhonda Vincent, I think has a great voice. Of course, I like Dwight [Yoakam] — I don't know if you'd consider him contemporary, but I think he is. But as far as the rest of the guys? Not in the mainstream. I don't particularly like any of them."
For Watson, it all starts with a good song, a real song. "It's just gotta be real," he says. "Songs made up by three guys in a room in Nashville, just don't cut it for me. I like hearing songs that are a little bit more personal."
Seeing Dale Watson and his Lone Stars live is a rare treat. There's no Nashvegas flash, no glitz, no achey-breaky bullshit, just a straight up shot of Ameripolitan music. Folks leave rejuvenated, reinvigorated, their faith restored. I know, it's happened to me.
"Hopefully you'll leave knowing you heard something you can't hear anywhere else," Watson says. "Leave with a feeling of what I think it was that made country music so appealing in the first place. Before it got polluted."
The band is the pistol-packin' ruler of Western swing and all the genres that lead up to it.