Gene Watson described making this album as being “like writing my autobiography. “ Much the same as writing an autobiography, “old memories flooded back,” he says. “Sometimes I’d remember the exact day I was in the studio recording the original or where I was when I first heard the song.” Now, if this project was only for the purpose of bringing back good memories again, it wouldn’t be worth too much. However, Watson still sings great. In other words, that fine singing voice of his is more than just a mere memory.
For instance, “You're out Doing What I'm Here Doing Without” finds Watson at his absolute singing best. The way he dips down into those low notes would even make a younger George Jones proud. Watson is not an extremely powerful vocalist; instead, he has a way of expressing the words to his songs perfectly. He knows how to use what he’s got.
And dare we say it, some of these new recordings sound better than their originals. Many of Watson’s big hits, as you may recall, were recorded in the bad old ‘80s. That was a sonic era fine for new wave synth-pop bands, but not nearly so kind to country artists. Drum machines and other electronic doo-dads were appropriate for dance tracks, but not a good idea when it came to down home honky-tonk songs.
These re-recorded songs feature plenty of fine musicianship; particularly that of producer Dirk Johnson, who – in addition to piano -- also adds flute and percussion in places. Watson only deviates from standard country arrangements a few times. One of these nice side roads “The Old Man and His Horn,” which features a warm trumpet solo.
In many instances, Watson songs tell stories of class struggles, as only country lyrics can do. “Fourteen Carat Mind” speaks of trying to keep a girl with pricy tastes happy, while “Nothing Sure Looked Good on You” is not just a smart double entendre, but also an excellent study of the differences newfound money can bring to relationships.
This 25-song collection covers a wide range of career territory. There’s the sad ‘n slow “Farewell Party,” as well as Watson’s most famous song, “Love in the Hot Afternoon, “ a smash in 1975. Watson can put out a large helping of chart-toppers, such as this one, because he’s just been so successful. Six of his songs have gone to number one, while 23 made the top ten and a whopping 75 singles overall have charted! This makes him a radio staple.
Since Watson began his career in 1962, this year marks the performer’s Golden Anniversary of 50 years in the music business. Watson is one of those guys that have simply aged well. If you don’t own a good overview of his hits, Best of the Best is a perfectly fine place to start. All the hits are included, plus it finds the artist still at the top of his game. Watson is not usually mentioned in the same breath of, say, Haggard and Jones, but maybe he should be. Based upon the evidence of this superior collection, the case can be made that Gene Watson is one of country music’s underrated treasures. And if he is, indeed, a treasure, Best of the Best is his prized treasure chest.