If you don’t know who Aaron Watson is, you are about to. The Honky-Tonk Kid from Texas has just released his 8th studio album, The Underdog. While his star power couldn’t be higher in the Lone Star State, nationally he is still a bit of an unknown quality. That is about to change. Aaron’s new album has been getting a considerable about of buzz and has the Texan pacing along the likes of Miranda Lambert and Eric Church on the albums chart in its opening week. However, none of that matters if the music isn’t up to par. Thankfully, I’m happy to say that The Underdog is a great album from start to finish.
This album shows off Aaron Watson’s country roots while staying fresh and contemporary. If I had to make a comparison, he is like Alan Jackson or George Strait. He has the charisma and skills to be a huge star, but has his feet firmly planted in the traditional country sound. While mainstream country is looking for someone to buck the trends and get some real country back on the radio, Aaron Watson has been making his kind of music for years. It’s great to see it finally getting some recognition. Songs like “The Prayer”, a mid-tempo tune that references God and Johnny Cash, and “ Bluebonnets”, a slow song about looking back, are fine examples of exquisite songwriting rarely heard on the airwaves. “Freight Train” features some extremely fast paced vocals that some may say borders on rap, but I would disagree. He is not speaking, he is singing, and his vocals are meant to mimic the sound of a speeding locomotive. This is just unique styling, not rap. The song is fun and works well. Aaron can bring the speed vocals like none other. “That’s Gonna Leave a Mark” evokes a little bit of western swing, while “One of Your Nights” is a tender country ballad. Both are excellent songs. “That’s Why God Loves Cowboys” is a nice tribute to the hard working class that makes up Aaron’s fan base. He always makes sure to remember where he came from, and his fans love him for it.
While all of these are great, three songs really popped to me as standouts on this album. First of all, “The Underdog”, the title track, is about as perfect of a country song as you can get. Some may call it cheesy or predictable, but this song of advice for his boys is the kind of music that country music is built upon. It comes straight from the heart. I am sure Aaron believes every word he is singing. Another one that I really got into was “Family Tree”. There is nothing groundbreaking lyrically here. It’s a simple song about the love of a family, but man, the melody is as catchy as all get out and with that fiddle solo… Mmm. That is music to a country boy’s ears. One of the best parts of the neo-traditional movement of the 90’s was the increase in great fiddle solos. Nowadays, hearing a fiddle on the radio is about as rare as hearing an intelligent thought come out of Washington D.C. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, is the song “Fence Post”. This song is easily my favorite of the album, and one of my favorites of the year. The song takes to task the record labels and executives of Nashville by telling a version of his story, complete with a label exec telling him he didn’t have “commercial appeal”. He then trucks it down to Texas, becomes a star, and then has the labels trying to get him back. The song is a rallying cry for independent-minded people. He puts down being a “puppet on a string” and praises the satisfaction gained by doing things your own way. I don’t like to speak for legends that have passed on, but I’d be very surprised if the likes of Waylon Jennings and Johnny Paycheck wouldn’t agree with the sentiment of this song. These songs are important because they make public some of the issues with music that average fans probably don’t understand. “Fence Post” is as an important and relevant song as any in country music right now. Fans responded by taking it to number one on the iTunes country singles chart when Aaron released it early.
Juxtaposed with Aaron Watson’s independent attitude and dedication to his roots lay a few attempts to crack into the mainstream crowd. Aaron does a pretty good job of keeping his attempts grounded in country music and not out of character. “That Look” is a smooth love song that sounds like exactly what I’d expect George Strait’s latest single to be, and that’s a very good thing. It’s contemporary, but still country. “Wildfire” deals with the same old same old country theme of partying by the river with a girl and a truck, blah blah, but the country arrangement and decent melody keep it enjoyable, even if it isn’t the best song on the album. “Getaway Truck” is so catchy and fun that you’ll forget it’s another truck song. Remember, songs about trucks isn’t the problem, it’s the abundance of them. This one is pretty fun. “Blame It On Those Baby Blues” is a decent song that doesn’t really offend or stand out. It is an enjoyable enough tune that is a safe radio song. The only song on the album that really doesn’t work for me is “Rodeo Queen”. I think they were getting a little too creative in the mixing room and the song is really just an odd addition to the album.
The Underdog is exactly the shot in the arm that mainstream country needs. It is accessible enough that it can fit in on radio, but still as country as can be. Aaron Watson isn’t a newcomer to people with good taste. He is a veteran of the stage and that could go wonders in helping his star rise. This isn’t some kid who just got a record deal. This is a bona fide Texas star who worked his butt off to build a passionate fan base. He knows how to work a room and a crowd. This experience is going to help his name continue to grow. If you like real country music with lots of heart and lots of fiddle, you need to check out The Underdog. While you’re at it, check out the rest of Aaron Watson’s catalog. You’ll find some great music. Let’s get this underdog to the top of country music!
Standout Tracks: "Fence Post", "Family Tree", "The Underdog", "Bluebonnets", "That Look", "The Prayer"