Gene Watson’s ‘A Way to Survive’ (Step One Records, 1997): Country Music People Review: February 1998

Gene Watson has been singing professionally since the late 1950s and has been a country music album recording artist since the late 1960s.

Gene Watson’s contribution to the country music genre is immeasurable.

It is here where you have an opportunity to read a review of Gene Watson’s ‘A Way to Survive‘ (Step One Records, 1997), as published in the February 1998 issue of Country Music People.

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Country Music People have long ago nailed its colours to the mast where Gene Watson is concerned.

 has rigorously championed Gene Watson’s cause down through the years and have published a number of reviews of his album releases.

All reviews have been reproduced with the kind permission of Country Music People.

Gene Watson: 'A Way to Survive' (Step One Records, 1997)

A Way to Survive‘ (Step One Records, 1997)
Country Music PeopleFebruary 1998

This review of ‘A Way to Survive‘ (Step One Records, 1997) by Chris Bolton was published in the February 1998 issue of Country Music People, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the publishers.

Album Review by Chris Bolton
(**** out of 5)
‘CMP long ago nailed its colours to the mast where Gene Watson is concerned.

There are few more stylish interpreters of the country song, and few who have managed to be so unerringly consistent over so great a time-span.

Not only does he have one of our music’s greatest voices – and one that really is getting better with age – he still has a knack for interpretation that makes whatever song he sings his and his alone.

By working with a producer who knows how to get the best out of a great voice – and a man who, in his day, was no mean song stylist himself, Ray Pennington (Friday 22 December 1933 – Wednesday 7 October 2020) – Gene Watson has ensured that his latest records continue to number among his greatest records.

Gene’s last Step One album, ‘The Good Ole Days‘ (Step One Records, 1996) (album details & CMP review), (excluding the recent gospel set) featured a textured blend of Texas swing and the kind of wrenching heart songs that had become practically extinct – or, at least, the exclusive domain of George Strait! – before Pennington (Friday 22 December 1933 – Wednesday 7 October 2020) started to engineer Watson’s deserved return to the forefront around three years ago.

So good was that release that even country radio couldn’t ignore the contents – and few among us weren’t chuffed to see Gene back on the airplay charts that have abandoned so many of his contemporaries for younger, not-as-talented acts.

If there’s any justice in this world, things will pick up just where they left off last time around where ‘A Way to Survive‘ (Step One Records, 1997) is concerned.

Once again, Pennington(Friday 22 December 1933 – Wednesday 7 October 2020) and Watson have selected a stack of songs – primarily from fairly-obscure 16th Avenue second-stringers – that demonstrate every facet of Watson’s delivery and performance skills.

The emphasis this time is on balladry (although the short, sprightly two step ‘All Hat, No Cattle’ provides both a dancers’ delight and a good-humoured dig at cardboard cowboys everywhere) but that’s very much in ‘A Way to Survive‘s favour.

Outside of Strait and Mark Chesnutt – and, of course, George Jones (Saturday 12 September 1931 – Friday 26 April 2013), who cut such a magnificent original version – few singers in or approaching their prime could imbue a song like Curly Putman (Thursday 20 November 1930 – Sunday 30 October 2016) and Bucky Jones‘ ‘Couldn’t Love Have Picked A Better Place To Die’ with the desperate believability that Gene brings to the song, while the revival of Hank Cochran‘s much covered classic that gives this record its title is delivered with a slow shuffle beat and world-weary resignation that only one who’s lived the lyric could bring to it.

Watson’s take on the song is as effective as Ray Price‘s stellar original from nearly three and half decades ago.

Hank Cochran (Friday 2 August 1935 – Thursday 15 July 2010)
Ray Price (Tuesday 12 January 1926 – Monday 16 December 2013)

Still on the downbeat, ‘Someone’s Child’ is a bitter, reflective update of the old ‘tramp on the street’ theme and Gene paints a blunt, all-too-depressing picture of a place that none of us should ever want to go of our own volition, turning it into one of the album’s highlights.

For all its plus points, there is an element of the curious about this record, and it comes with the inclusion of the last three tracks.

I can understand Gene and Step One wanting to revive his older hits for a new generation of buyers, but there’s so little difference between this version of ‘Fourteen Carat Mind’ and his original take on the same song that redoing it was a pointless exercise.

Gene Watson: 'In Other Words' (Canada: Mercury Records / Polygram Records, 1992 / United States: Broadland International Records, 1992)

Even more baffling is the inclusion of the final pair of cuts, both of which appeared on Watson’s Broadland album, ‘In Other Words‘ (Canada: Mercury Records / Polygram Records, 1992 / United States: Broadland International Records, 1992), back in 1992.

Same performances, same mixes, same everything – and, good though they are, I find it hard to believe that any long-time Watson collector won’t already own them via that CD.

Of course, if that album by-passed you, then this one is a must to acquire – but if it didn’t, the committed Watson fan is going to have to shell out for just seven new recordings.  I’m intrigued to know why they had to use the Broadland tracks…

Those criticisms aside, ‘A Way to Survive‘ (Step One Records, 1997) is another fine record from one of country music’s more important and enduring talents.  Like the other two great Watsons (who else but Dale and Doc), he continues to make it all sound so elementary.

Recommended with or without reservations…’

Gene also offers a fine version of the old slow shuffle, ‘Getting Over You Again’, with Buddy Emmons (Wednesday 27 January 1937 – Wednesday 29 July 2015) adding a lovely steel backup.

If only we could have a new Gene Watson album every six months…’

Chris Bolton
Country Music People
February 1998