Help me, Merle, I'm breakin' out in a Nashville rash
/I'm too country now for country, just like Johnny Cash
, Dale Watson sang in 1995's "Nashville Rash," probably with Garth Brooks in mind. A decade later, with his disdain for flash and his deep, old-fangled croon, he's not only the anti-Big and Rich but also the alternative to the alt traditionalists who still strain for authenticity. The ease of his choogling trucker songs and tales of mournful losers shows a honky-tonker speaking his native language. And lest the Haggard and Cash comparisons seem too cocky, consider that this is a guy who has lived rough surviving an overdose, the death of a fiancée and a stay in a mental institution but transmuted his pain as artfully as any country singer of the past two decades.