From the very first riff, I was hooked.
It wasn’t old-school, cry in your beer country, but it had been way too long since I heard music drenched in such a traditional sound, pioneered by the hat-acts who have almost all fallen by the wayside.
It was Pure Country, and it went by the name of Aaron Watson – AKA – “The Honky Tonk Kid”.
Let me start with the title track, “Real Good Time”. It’s a perfect way to kick things off, with a riff that sounds straight off a Zac Brown album, if Zac was more traditional than Americana. It’s fun, if a bit wordy, but Aaron is a pro at phrasing and never misses a beat (listen for the last chorus where he sings with the dexterity of an auctioneer). The whole album carries this good time feeling throughout, and the production ties every song together quite smoothly (with the exception of the re-recorded tunes – they serve as more of a bonus ). The next few tracks keep the pace going, with “Lips” being a song destined to bring in the ladies, as well as being a possible single from the record.
“Girl, even after all these years, loving you still feels brand new… and I just have to say, I love the way my lips look on you” – Excerpt from “Lips”
“July in Cheyenne” is a very touching song that pays tribute to Lane Frost, the professional bull rider who passed away after a ride in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I especially love the instrumental breaks – it gives you time to feel the emotion behind the song.
“Cadillac Cowboy” (a Chris Ledoux cover featuring Justin McBride) and “Fish” have a bit of country-fried cheese to them, which might be off-putting to some, but they don’t veer too far into hokey-ness. And Cadillac Cowboy has one of my favorite guitar solo’s in recent memory… I kept rewinding the song to the beginning of the solo the first time I listened to it.
Speaking of guitar, I know I’m biased, what with me being a guitar player and all, but the guitar work on this record is phenomenal. It’s twang pickin’ at its best, and the production on the guitar is what makes many of the songs work (“Turn Around” comes to mind). If you’re a picker, or just a fan of great playing, this CD deserves a place in your library.
Next up is “Leather and Lace”, a duet with the talented Elizabeth Cook, who sings the song with a fragility in her voice that I really liked. And Aaron, he belts it out from the get-go and doesn’t let up. In my opinion, his vocals have never been as well produced as they are on this record.
I’m sure by now that most of you have heard “Raise Your Bottle”, but it’s still a wonderful sentiment, not to mention a personal song for Watson (his Granddaddy’s service inspired the song). I think it’s an above-average support the military tune, of which there are plenty in the genre. (All proceeds of “Raise Your Bottle” go to The Boot Campaign – click the link to find out more about this great cause)
“Texas Boys” has Texas, Pat Green AND Josh Abbott all in one song. That’s really all I need to say to get most Texas music fans interested. However, as much as I enjoy hearing these scene-fixtures in one place, I think it would have stood out more on an album that wasn’t as dense as Real Good Time. Still, it’s worth a listen.
And if George Strait truly is riding away next year, and you’re worried about Country going even further over the edge of pop and rock, then now is the time to get into Aaron Watson’s music. If you give him your full support, he’ll reward you with King George worthy tunes like “Nowhere Fast”, a song that hearkens back to the days of “Drinking Champagne”. It’s jazzy and turned out to be a hidden-gem of a song, for me.
“Deer Blind”, as far as humorous country songs go, is pretty good. Kevin Fowler & John Anderson inject a liveliness into it and the whole thing is pretty charming and entertaining in a decidedly Redneck way. But, personally, I like a little more smart-ass with my songwriting… which brings me to my favorite song on the CD: “Hey Ya’ll – My Contribution To Ruining Country Music Country Song! Ha!”
“I can rattle that buck, hook a big cat… my girlfriend’s skinny but my rhymes are fat.” – Excerpt from “Hey Ya’ll”
This is it. This is the song I’ve waited on for a couple of years now, and I didn’t even know it. This is the song that I want immediately played after every “Country” tune I hear on mainstream radio that fills its lyrics with redneck clichés, metal riffs, pop echoes, dashes of hip-hop and a very egotistical style of… well, style. Not only is it a song that’s downright funny, but it’s an important commentary on these Country artists that take themselves way too seriously. I mean, most of them seem mean-spirited and come off as jerks. Watson, however, is a true country gentleman and delivers every line with a tongue-in-cheek grin and giddy aplomb that makes it impossible to not laugh at it all.
“Hey Ya’ll” marks the end of the new material on Real Good Time. The rest of the album is an added treat: re-recordings of some of Aaron’s more popular tunes. You’ve got “Barbed Wire Halo” and “Reckless”, both of which sound as good as ever, but I prefer the original recordings of “Off The Record” (now with Charla Corn, but where’s the mandolin solo?!?) and “I Don’t Want You To Go”, though the updated production values don’t go entirely unappreciated. But for my money, “The Honky Tonk Kid” (with the legendary Willie Nelson) is the most successful of all the re-do’s. The added steel intro and ruggedness in Willie’s voice starts the song off perfectly, and it serves as a last reminder of the importance that country should have in country (or maybe I’m reading too into it, who knows). Either way, it’s a great way to close the album out.
By this point you might think I’m some crazed Aaron Watson fan… or maybe a young upstart in the Texas music scene who is sucking up to one of the established artists. Wrong on both accounts, but I won’t hold that against you. The truth is that I love listening, playing and writing about music. And yeah, Real Good Time isn’t perfect, but with the way things gave been heading on mainstream country radio it’s a damn important one. A celebration of traditional country, plain and simple. A love letter to the things that we love, and love to hate, about this rapidly changing and increasingly complex genre.
We could use a bitter-less reminder of that every once in a while.
“It won’t be long the lord will take him away, he’d sung his last song, they’ll place a wreath on his grave… But he’ll draw a crowd just like he always did… one last goodbye for The Honky Tonk Kid” – Excerpt from “Honky Tonk Kid”