Dale Watson “Starvation Box”

Cleopatra Records, 2023

Dale Watson pays fitting tribute to folk blues pioneers.

Dale Watson is unambiguous when it comes to citing the influence for new album ‘Starvation Box.’ Watson lives in Marshall, Texas, very much an area significant in the life and times of folk blues pioneer Huddle William Leadbetter aka Lead Belly. Convinced that pursuing his musical dreams could only lead to poverty and famine for the young Huddle his father referred to his son’s 12-string guitar as a ‘starvation box.’

The title track and album opener is very much an ode to Lead Belly: “Starvation box is the road to ruin… Can’t eat the music from a starvation box.” As with all the tracks on the album the words are brought to life by some terrific harmonica and slide guitar from Mike Henderson. The album has an old-time feel throughout and the brevity of the songs, most of which are under 3 minutes, confirms this as an album with roots very much in a distant past.

The songs may be brief but there is an urgency to the tracks that sees Watson cram in much more than the playing time would seem to allow. Those harmonica and guitar inputs often manifest as short blistering solos, as if to state that only a few seconds are needed to make the impact necessary.

Whatever Happened To The Cadillac’ is another wistful look back, using the metamorphosis of that car from something special and unique into something unremarkable as a metaphor for much of life as he sees it now. “Whatever happened to the radio, the music used to have so much soul, it all sounds the same, I traced it back to what the hell happened to the Cadillac.

Billy Strawn’ tells the tale of Elvis Presley’s mechanic, including a crackly spoken contribution from Mr Strawn himself. ‘Two Peas In A Pod’ is a duet with Celine Lee and has such an old-time feel, even by the standards of this album, that it will either be seen as cheesy as it gets or a sweet love letter depending on your state of mind.

If Watson’s vocals occasionally bring Johnny Cash to mind the beautifully melodic ‘I Ain’t Been Livin Right’ takes us firmly into Glen Campbell territory with the rhythm and flow of the acoustic opening bars just begging a comparison to ‘Gentle On My Mind’.

Starvation Box’ is clearly a declaration of love from Watson for his roots and the affection and regard he feels for those musical pioneers who have come before him. With some superb musicianship to accompany him, Watson has done the memory of Lead Belly proud.


About Peter Churchill 180 Articles
Lover of intelligent singer-songwriters; a little bit country; a little bit folk; a little bit Americana. Devotee of the 'small is beautiful' school of thought when it comes to music venues.
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