LIVE: Dale Watson & Ray Benson @ The Egg, 4/9/17
Review and photographs by Ed Conway
Additional photograph by Glenn Kaplowitz
Two Texas troubadours finally got together and the result was one fantastic show. Touring behind their collaboration for the album, Dale & Ray, Dale Watson and Ray Benson (Asleep At The Wheel) made a stop in Albany at The Egg’s Hart Theatre with a fine example of traditional country music. Don’t, however, call Watson a country performer, as he strongly prefers the term “Ameripolitan” – a term he coined for several styles of American roots music as a result of his disdain for the direction of modern country music.
Backed by Watson’s regular band, The Lonestars, and a fiddler, the two kicked off the evening with “I Wish I Knew,” an ironically rollicking tune about lost love from their album. Their baritone voices matched well in harmony for the chorus, and throughout the evening, added to their impeccable timing as they seamlessly finished off each others thoughts, a fact that Watson commented on as they traded quips between songs.
They weren’t shy about their opinion toward the record business. They came through loud and clear with Willie Nelson’s “Write Your Own Songs.” Benson played on the original recording at Nelson’s request. It seems Benson had no recording contract, and Nelson suggested this would help him. Needless to say, the topic didn’t help. Another middle finger to the business came with Waylon Jennings’ “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.”
There were also plenty of tributes honoring those who came before. “Feelin Haggard” (written for the loss of Merle Haggard and the impetus for their album), “Cryin’ to Cryin’ Time Again” (in tribute to Buck Owens) and “Jonesin’ For Jones” (for George Jones) were not just heartfelt, but they verbally painted a picture of the hole left where these giants once stood.
It wasn’t all sad or anti-establishment songs, there were also plenty of chances to showcase their sense of humor. In the middle of “The Ballad Of Dale And Ray,” Benson stepped back and made a sales pitch for Asleep at the Wheel Roadhouse BBQ sauce. Of course, Watson matched him with his obligatory pitch for Lonestar Beer. It makes your teeth whiter; Dale said so, it must be true. The biggest reception from the crowd came with Watson’s “I Lie When I Drink” (and he drinks a lot) as it seemed everyone in the theater joined in the chorus without bidding.
Using the Lonestars as the backing band made for an extremely tight sound as Don Pawlak (pedal steel), Mike Bernal (drums) and Chris Crepps (upright bass) have played together long enough to have developed a natural feel for each other, which makes the whole even better than their formidable individual talents. The addition of Dennis Ludiker – a three-time Texas State Fiddle Champion – took it to a higher plane. Ludiker did double duty on both fiddle and mandolin – sometimes both in the same song – in addition to rhythm guitar.
Watson and Benson traded solo duties on their Telecasters throughout the evening, but seemed to enjoy listening to Pawlak and Ludiker even more, as they got the bulk of the lead work. In fact, watching the musicians on stage, they all seemed to be enjoying the goings on as much as the audience.
P.S.: I think Benson won the lowest voice battle.
DALE & RAY SET LIST
I Wish You Knew
The Ballad Of Dale And Ray
Take Me Back To Tulsa (Bob Wills)
Misery And Gin (Merle Haggard)
Jonesin’ For Jones
Sittin’ And Thinkin’ About You
A Hangover Ago
Cryin’ to Cryin’ Time Again
Forget About Tomorrow Today
Write Your Own Songs
South of Round Rock Texas
Miles and Miles of Texas
Carryin’ on This Way
I Lie When I Drink
Hot Rod Lincoln
Big Balls in Cowtown (George Strait)
Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way (Waylon Jennings)