The Underdog

Big Label/Thirty Tigers

Aaron Watson’s 12th album, The Underdog, deals in the topics he loves the most; his God, his family, and the life of a cowboy. As Watson’s last release, Real Good Time, did, this collection straddles a fine line that separates the sincere from the schlock — though thankfully, this go-around (produced by Keith Stegall) finds him more on the earnest side. “The Prayer,” a banjo and fiddle-powered gospel tale Watson wrote after reading Johnny Cash’s Man in White, isn’t a sleepy hymnal, but rather a mood-altering Western-gothic tune that’s as inventive a song as Watson has offered in years. “Bluebonnets (Julia’s Song)” is a fittingly heart-ripping remembrance of the infant daughter Watson and his wife lost to Edwards Syndrome in 2011. The romping, appropriately titled life-on-the-road song “Freight Train” cranks up the tempo, with Watson delivering one of his most galloping vocals ever over a frenzied banjo, but then the pedal steel sweeps softly in and he effortlessly shifts gears from stage-burning outlaw to heart-sick family man. And even when some of these songs, like the lead-single “That Look,” a straight-forward love note to his wife, and the ranch-hand ode “That’s Why God Loves Cowboys,” veer into hokum, the raw sincerity of Watson’s voice steers them true. Fifteen years into his career, this seasoned cowboy does wholeheartedness as well as any true-blue country music purist around. — KELLY DEARMORE

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