Dale Watson exploded out of Austin, Texas in 1995 with "Cheatin' Heart Attack" on Oakland's Hightone Records. He sang a bit like the young Merle Haggard, and his aggressive backing band played honky-tonk music with a post-punk edge sharp enough to shave with. But it was his songwriting that really made fans and critics pay attention. Starting with the title tune on his first album, and continuing with tracks like "You Lie," "Tell 'em I Ain't Here," and "Truckin' Man," Watson showed that he could write classic, blue-collar country songs with the best of 'em. ('Course they don't play classic blue-collar country songs on country radio anymore, but that's another story.) Like his hero, Merle Haggard, Watson wasn't afraid of decidedly unmacho displays of feeling; the disconcerting emotional overkill of "I Hate These Songs" and the self-effacing lyric of "Pity Party" were driven home by his powerful yet understated delivery. Watson's now signed to a small label in his hometown, and is still making killer albums, but the three he waxed for Hightone (Blessed or Damned and I Hate These Songs are the other two) contained some of the best alt.country anybody made in the '90s.
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