Digging up an old Willie Nelson tune is never a bad idea, but it’s particularly good when the ones doing the digging are a pair of classic Texas troubadours, Dale Watson and Ray Benson, on their new duets LP, Dale & Ray. Watson and Benson, though nearly legendary in their own Lone Star circles, aren’t exactly household names, but they’ve paved fruitful careers through numerous albums, tours (solo, for Watson, and with his band Asleep at the Wheel, for Benson) without ever adhering to the rules and regulations of Music Row. Though Dale & Ray includes eight originals, it’s this take on Nelson’s not-so-polite kiss-off to the Nashville suits who watch the dollars roll in without ever lifting a finger — or a guitar pick — that is especially appropriate for any musician (or person, actually) who feels like the fruits of their soul are transformed into fuel for someone else’s BMW.
“So just lay on your ass and get richer, or write your own songs,” they chant in steely, warm harmony to the record executives who can’t see the difference between artistry and income. It’s a struggle not just limited to famous singers: Whether you’re a cook on a line, a surgeon or, well, a music journalist, there’s always a point where it feels like what looks like an artistic soufflé, or a life-saving procedure, or a carefully wrought album review to us only translates as income for others. Watson and Benson have managed to balance these opposing forces well enough — but even Nelson, who wrote the song for his duets album with Waylon Jennings, wasn’t immune to greedy fingers. It’s a good reminder from those who haven’t sacrificed an inch to keep rolling to your own tune. And if that fails? Speak up, Willie-style.