"We ride a horse named hustle."
After 18 years in the music business resulting in 13 albums and over two thousand shows worth of experience later, Aaron Watson only has a few words to say about how he and his band have gotten where they are: "We don't focus on phases, phases, stages, and flavors of the month," he tells me. "We stay true to our brand, we work hard, and we ride a horse named hustle."
When I ask the obvious follow up, what he considers a "flavor of the month," Watson comes back with a quick and dirty history of what's been trending in country music. "Think of all the transitions that country music has gone through," he points out. "From kind of the boy band Rascal Flatts phase to the Gretchen Wilson, Big & Rich MuzikMafia phase to skinny jean wearing, pop bro-Country phase, to this new kind of R&B country phase."
Watson is unapologetically Texan and strikes as the kind of guy people are talking about when they talk about cowboys, a door-to-door salesman of country music. Following in the footsteps of fellow Texas country artists like George Jones and George Strait, Watson's music situates himself between the two. His latest contribution to his discography, Vaquero—out February 24—mixes elements of Red Dirt country and Texas country music. By starting the album with a song like "Texas Lullaby," Watson sits down and looks the influence of Mexico and the deserts of the southwestern United States on country music straight in the eye. Not a single song on this album escapes the influence of Texas and through it Watson builds his image as a freewheeling' troubadour-cum-ranchero with a penchant for soaring guitar riffs and fiddle.
The album isn't safe from Music City's influence, no matter how hard Watson may or may not have tried to avoid the flavor of the month on this one, and its current cliches come to life on "Big Love in a Small Town." The dabbling in countrypolitan style never overpowers the image of singer-as-ranchero on the album, but it consistently lurks in the periphery of the album.
Truthfully, he could sell out tomorrow and with the fanbase and reputation he's amassed in a decades-long career do pretty well for himself. Even without the backing of a major label he managed to "make it"—his previous album, The Underdog, made him the first independent male country artist to debut at number one on the Billboard country album charts. "Honestly the fact is, I'm just incredibly average," Watson says on what's kept him in the industry for so long, apart from needing a way to pay the bills. "And being that I'm so incredibly average it gives me a really good perspective on life and what's important. And I think people relate to me, I think that's why I sell so many records, is I write songs that people relate to."
Vaquero is a collection of songs by a rambling man written for all the people who find themselves rambling around with a sense of direction but without a clear picture of where they're heading. From the opening lines of "Texas Lullaby" to the closing of "Diamonds and Daughters" we're given a glimpse into the life of a man who couldn't stop if he wanted to, not that he would.
Vaquero is out Friday on BIG Label Records. Listen below.
Annalise Domenighini has never been to Texas but she loves queso. She's on Twitter.