Author: Leon Blair
You know that old cliché? The one that says that you learn something every day? Well, when it comes to my musical discoveries it's a phrase that I live by. The sea of talent in the country and Americana music world is seemingly endless, full of artists waiting for your time of day. It's one of, if not the best problem a music fan could have in today's world.
Living in the United States, I've heard about a million artists in the country and Americana world stemming off of recommendations as well as my own research (and judging by the rate, I'm wondering if there will come a day when that “million” isn't a hyperbole.) However, no matter how much you dig and dig, you're unfortunately not going to get to hear everyone. The saddest part of all of this is that the thought rarely crosses to search for talent outside of one's country of origin. From the likes of Canada we've been treated to some great music by the likes of artists such as Lindi Ortega, Corb Lund, Colter Wall, Dean Brody, Whitney Rose, and many more. The United Kingdom is where you'll find the rising duo Ward Thomas. And of course, there's another country where you'll find country music talent as well – Australia.
And this brings us to Doug Bruce, originally from Aubrey, Texas, but now currently residing in Bendingo, Australia. For those who don't know, Doug has released five studio albums, and has a rich musical background, previously touring around Texas with his band named Cheyenne before pledging himself as a citizen of Australia two years ago. In addition to this, his father and uncle were both involved with music as well.
The early-to-mid-1980s are typically regarded as something of a dark age in country music history. The success of the 1980 John Travolta film Urban Cowboy (or, more specifically, its blockbuster soft pop/rock soundtrack) signaled the death knell of the outlaw era and ushered in an era of synthesizers and drum machines. Living legends were shut out almost overnight by radio and the average song on the airwaves became less country than ever before.
As the legend goes, out of nowhere a rookie named Randy Travis released his debut, triple-platinum album Storms of Life in 1986, scored multiple #1 hits and in the process, turned the tide at radio and single-handedly saved country music from itself. Indeed, whenever a traditional-leaning artist like Jamey Johnson or Chris Stapleton emerges in recent years, fans disillusioned with mainstream country radio often hope that they'll prove to be "the next Randy Travis."
Steadfast traditionalist Dale Watson is a very solid artist who is capable of creating some excellent music. However, his intense prolificness - he's released an album almost every year since his 1995 debut - has resulted in a discography that, while never bad, can be a bit scattershot in quality. My favorite release of his is the 2000 live album Live in London... England. Serving as something of a de facto greatest hits set, it contains most of his best songs up to that point as well as several highly worthwhile tracks that can't be found everywhere else, including some expertly-chosen covers. Dale and his band (The Lone Stars) are in top form and put on a show easily worth the price of admission.
One of the most interesting things about Watson's vocals and overall sound is that he draws inspiration equally from pure honky-tonk singers like Faron Young, rockabilly singers like Sun-era Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, outlaws like Waylon Jennings, and tender balladeers such as Ray Price, creating a sound that's hard to pigeonhole, which is not something that can be said for all traditionalists. None of these influences are ever far from the surface on any of his recordings, but the end result always feels natural and not like an awkward hodgepodge. Dale is a true original that doesn't sound like he is trying to recreate anyone, which is of course a fool's errand.
While Texas music legend Jerry Jeff Walker has written many great songs, generally his bread and butter is recording the works of other great writers and delivering worthy and at times definitive versions of them. He's not a great vocalist in the technical sense by any means, but his voice has a folksy, "everyman" quality that's very charming and difficult to dislike, and he is an extremely able interpreter. While he's never achieved much in the way of commercial success and is virtually unknown in the mainstream, he has a huge cult following among country enthusiasts and remains extremely influential in Texas and alt-country to this day. His 1978 album Contrary to Ordinary came at the end of a long run of classic albums, and while it's hardly the best record in his discography, it's certainly worth checking out.
The opener "Tryin' to Hold the Wind Up With a Sail" is a sweet love song about a couple who rely on each other for emotional support during the hard times. The production is Carribbean-flavored and a huge departure from Walker's normal country-folk sound, but it really works. Of similarly high quality is Lee Clayton's roots rocker "Saturday Night Special" (not to be confused with the Conway Twitty or Lyrnyrd Skyrnrd songs of the same name), which is a rollicking good time with a great chorus.
Editor's Note: I originally intended to review another album for my debut at Country Music Minds. However, for obvious reasons, I decided to it was only fitting to review a Merle Haggard album instead. Thanks again to Louis for inviting me to contribute.
In 1982, George Jones and Merle Haggard collaborated on the duet album A Taste of Yesterday’s Wine. While perhaps not among the very best entries of either artist's discography, it was a fine album that contained several strong tracks, chief among them being their classic cover of Willie Nelson’s “Yesterday’s Wine". Unfortunately, we had to wait nearly a quarter of a century for a follow-up.