Real. Country. Music.
A title like Real. Country. Music. can only mean you’re a ghost, and Watson leans into that with weeping lap steel and a beautiful record.
Real. Country. Music. begins with a little string intro, supplemented by a ghostly “ooo.” A brief pause and the opening track, “Enough for You,” launches. It’s a deeply sentimental way to start an album whose name could only be a dropping of the gauntlet. It also turns out wonderfully.
That gauntlet’s a storied one; even a casual observer of country with some occasional experience of its history can tell. Almost every alternative movement in the genre is about — or at least declares itself as — a return to roots. From outlaw to alt, the nominal return to the basics is the rhetorical move that opens up possibilities. There are obviously a lot of potential endings of that, and Gene Watson shows one of them.
Real. Country. Music. isn’t the start of a revolution; that string intro is evidence enough that Watson’s not attempting to galvanize, but to remind. It’s almost an admission; those haunted cries are not by him, but they are him. Watson’s a ghost in the current climate and knows it. And so he responds, with an album full of weeping lap steel and small, sad stories.
The songs themselves hit that weird sweet spot between goofy and great; if “Here come the teardrops / bitter they are, harder they fall” doesn’t appeal, I understand. But followed by “She caught me lying, then she caught a train / then I caught a fever, walking home in the rain,” it becomes beautiful.