We should all hope we can still sing as well as Gene Watson still does when we reach the age of 79. Known the world over as a stylist, Gene’s last Top 20 hit was in 1989 but that hasn’t stopped him from consistently releasing albums for various record labels including his own, Fourteen Carat Records, the label named after his lone #1 hit, “Fourteen Carat Mind.” On Outside The Box, his 33rd studio album, Gene Watson remains steadfast in his dedication to the kind of country songs he’s always recorded. Through the course of the albums dozen tracks, Gene sings about life, love and the meaning of it all. Mostly, he’s chosen songs which amplify his tender balladeer style, a style that’s as dulcet as it’s ever been.
On the Erin Enderlin and Jimmy Melton penned “I’ve Got One Of Those Too,” Gene brings old friend and duet partner Rhonda Vincent back to duet on a brilliant song about broken-hearted people finding each other to get over the heartache together and build something new. It’s a brilliant piece of work and another great duet is “Wonderful Future,” which finds Gene Watson singing with Willie Nelson on one of the great gems from Willie Nelson’s catalog of classic songs. They sound great on the duet and as awesome as these duets are, they’re far from the only songs worth talking about on Outside The Box.
The album’s opening track, “If I Had Any Pride Left At All” is a classic that perhaps hasn’t been discovered by many unless you know of the John Berry or Etta James takes on the Troy Seals, Eddie Sester, & John Greenbaum penned tune. This one finds Gene taking the spot of a man who has lost all semblance of a prideful man who should move on from the woman who keeps using and abusing him but there’s just something he cannot shake. It’s the matters of the heart which have always been where Gene Watson shines and as his career has shifted to albums instead of single-focus, he’s dared to record songs he loves, like Ernie Roswell’s story song “If She Only Knew,” a song about a man staying with his wife even through her battle with Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia has largely “taken” her away from him. Other standouts on Outside The Box include “Lie To Me,” The maudlin “Holding Your Memory” and bluesy “Some Fools” & “The Blues Are Alive And Well.”
This fine collection of great country songs features a song that plays homage to classic country’s A Team studio musicians on the Erin Enderlin and Jim ”Moose” Brown written “They Played It.” The song mentions Hargus “Pig” Robbins,” Pete Drake, Bob Moore and Buddy Harman and is a celebration of the folks who made country music what it is “down on music row they made magic in the studio, every country song you know, they played it.” And it’s true. Those folks did play it and Gene Watson, as he always has, he sings it. There may be flashier albums released in country music circa 2022 but there aren’t many better than Gene Watson’s Outside The Box.