There’s no doubt that the music business is tough. Maintaining a career as a singer and entertainer for 50 years is a feat that only a handful of artists accomplish. To celebrate a career that started with a regional Texas single in 1962, Gene Watson re-recorded 25 of his best-known songs for the new project, Best of the Best: 25 Greatest Hits, due in stores today.
Gene re-recorded these songs as close to the originals as possible, right down to the same keys and tempos. By doing it on his own Fourteen Carat Music record label this time around, he retains ownership of the production masters, a benefit that was held by his major label partners throughout his career. Songs like 1981’s No. 1 classic “Fourteen Carat Mind” and 1985’s “Memories To Burn” are included, as well as the song that kick-started Gene’s career, 1975’s steamy “Love In The Hot Afternoon.”
The first thing that jumps out about this collection is Gene’s voice. It is in fine shape and sounds as smooth as ever as the 68-year old runs through songs like “Paper Rosie” and “Nothing Sure Looked Good On You,” the latter showing off his great vocal strength in a powerful chorus. On the slow “Bedroom Ballad,” Gene’s control is tight as he navigates tricky notes with lines like, She’s got a way of saying things just when I need a thought to make it rhyme, building on a sensual theme while using songwriting metaphors. On “Should I Come Home (Or Should I Go Crazy),” Gene sounds fresh and soulful as he belts out hillbilly melodies in the chorus.
Building his band for this project, Gene reached out to Sonny Garrish, who handled the steel guitar parts on the original recordings. Sonny takes up this role again and the partnership shines throughout the entire collection, but most notably on the standout track “Farewell Party.” Gene’s voice oozes honky tonk heartache on the haunting tune, while Sonny’s lonely steel guitar cries in the background. Gene’s pacing and emotional delivery when singing, When my friends gather ‘round for my farewell party / won’t you pretend you love me, is as captivating for its technical precision as it is for its unflinching honesty.
Honesty and lyrical integrity are cornerstones of country music, and sometimes it takes listening to older pieces to remember just how powerful it can be. “What She Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Her” tells the first-person story of a cheating man going crazy due to his own transgressions while his wife remains unaware. The truth is catching up with me and it’s hard to hide my shame /What she don’t know won’t hurt her but it’s driving me insane, Gene sings in torment. On the unapologetically sexy “Between This Time and the Next Time,” Gene’s the “other man” while singing, Strip away your conscience and take off your wedding band, with a heavy dose of desire and not an ounce of shame.
Best of the Best is a great collection for both longtime fans of Gene and those just being introduced. The honesty and stories are gripping, while tight performances and crisp production support Gene’s ageless talent and remain true to his original vision.
Key tracks – “Farewell Party,” “Carmen,” “Should I Come Home (Or Should I Go Crazy),” “Bedroom Ballad”