Gene Watson, In a Perfect World

Houstonian Gene Watson may not be a household name, but he's no stranger to the country charts; "Fourteen Carat Mind," his diary of losing a woman to her uptown tastes, hit No. 1 in 1982. Nashville hasn't forgotten him, as Vince Gill, Lee Ann Womack, Connie Smith, Rhonda Vincent, Joe Nichols and Mark Chesnutt turn up to help out with duet and background vocals on In a Perfect World, Watson's first album for New Jersey folk/roots label Shanachie. It's hardly one of those stunt albums where the surfeit of guest stars is a bait-and-switch for weak material, though: Watson's buttery, twangy tenor — think George Strait or John Anderson — is eminently capable of carrying these 11 ballads on its own. It's precisely the sort of voice you want to hear tackle songs like Merle Haggard's "Today I Started Loving You Again" and Buck Owens's "Together Again," whether nursing a longneck alone at the bar or slowly waltzing around the dance floor with that special someone. And though a couple are on the mawkish side, the handful of new songs here aren't diminished at all by such lofty company – particularly bluesy Chesnutt duet "This Side of the Door" and the smoldering "I Buried Our Love" ("...but it won't rest in peace").

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