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Hogs on the Highway
Bad Livers
Sugar Hill Records

I Hate These Songs
Dale Watson
Hightone Records

At times our need for--or at least appreciation of--the brand-new and different leads us into a baby-bathwater scenario, particularly in the realm of music. If an artist or act does the same thing twice in a row, quelle horreur!--they're out of ideas, going stale, yaddayadda.

Not so, say these two Texas releases. Both hardcore country guy Dale Watson and mutant bluegrass group the Bad Livers have released just the album you'd expect from them--thank goodness. It's a particularly welcome reassurance for Livers fans, who were distressed last year when fiddler-accordeonista Ralph White tired of the road and quit touring with the band. As he indicated then, Hogs shows that White still enjoys working in the studio, and his appearance next to new guitarist and mandolin player Bob Grant--with guest shots by Austin hotshots Erik Hokkanen (fiddle) and Steve James (mandolin)--makes this a fine transitional album.

Although they first gained fame as the bluegrass group that did Metallica and other unusual covers, most of the Livers' punk inspiration these days is expressed by their attitude of total freedom and acceptance. Banjoist and guitar man Danny Barnes remains the group's principal songwriter, and few can

create a brand-new song that sounds as old: songs of his like the title track and "Dallas, Texas" sound much like the traditional "Cluck Old Hen" that's also included. The Livers aren't just preservationists worshiping at a bluegrass altar, however--you can detect a modern mind behind the humor and commentary of the lyrics, and Bill Monroe wouldn't know what the hell to make of the surreally despairing "Falling Down the Stairs (With a Pistol in My Hand)."

Dale Watson's I Hate These Songs is another collection of short, sweet--or sad--songs from the Buck Owens-Bakersfield school that he teaches so well. A tour of traditional song types--hungover regret, workingman's pride, heartbreak--the 14 songs on the album are delivered with a humor, insight, and flat-out accomplishment that makes you realize that we still don't have enough Dale Watson songs out there. Particularly catchy are "Pity Party," "Wine Don't Lie," and a rollicking recovery anthem, "Hair of the Dog," with its all-too-true refrain of "I swear I'll never drink again, again." Watson's deep baritone grows more evocative with each album, and the utterly perfect pedal steel provided by Lloyd Maines--as sharp, crystalline, and full of beautiful precision as ice crystals--is such a perfect match that you wish there was some way for Maines to join the rest of Watson's Lonestar backing band on the road.

--Matt Weitz

 
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