Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
It's been a long road, but 12 albums and 15 years later, Texas country singer Aaron Watson has finally arrived. Until his debut with Big Label/Thirty Tigers, Watson worked as a totally independent artist; even then, though, other Texas artists, from Willie Nelson and Dale Watson to Billy Joe Shaver, recognized his talent and collaborated with him. "The Underdog" debuted atop the country charts; Keith Stegall (Alan Jackson, George Jones, Zac Brown Band) produced and the songs range over most country clichés from trucks and freight trains to cowboys and the love of a good woman.
Watson channels Toby Keith and Alan Jackson on the rollicking "Freight Train," delivering a staccato, rapid-fire portrait of the never-ending locomotion of traveling on the road from show to show, yearning to get off, but knowing that the train's never gonna stop. Watson takes a page from Brad Paisley in a paean to Watson's wife, Kimberly, and her canny ability to know just the right time to give him "That Look": "She's up to something/wearing nothing but a beautiful smile/when she's good, she's good/but even better when she gets that look."
The highlight, "Bluebonnets (Julia's Song)," is not one of the typical country songs that fill the album; written in memory of his late daughter, Julia Grace, who died from a condition called Trisomy 18 shortly after she was born, the song poignantly captures the brevity of life; much like the Texas bluebonnets in the spring - which bloom for a short time - life goes quicker than we know, and listening to Watson's beautiful tune pretty quickly has us welling up in tears.
On the closing song, Watson delivers a tongue-in-cheek, though scathingly honest, story of a young songwriter come to Nashville to make it in the music business only to be told to that he has to take on another persona (and wear tight jeans) to make it in country music. In the end, he heads back to Texas for "I'd rather sing my own songs than be a puppet on a string/I'll wear what I wanna wear and sing what I'm gonna sing/Heaven knows, all I need is my faith, my fans, my friends, my family/ besides I'd rather be an old fence post in Texas than the king of Tennessee."
Watson's melodies lack an inventive spirit and there's not much in his music to distinguish his songs from many other artists' songs out there. Yet, his lyrics are often fresh and inventive - especially on songs like "Bluebonnets (Julia's Song)" and "Fence Post" - and that canny way with words and phrases shines through on this album.