Country music’s modern golden age was the nineties. The artistry was compelling, while the sales numbers were staggering. There was so much great music from so many artists, both old and new, that it’s easy to forget the undercurrent of mediocrity that lurked below this sea of excellence.
The Very Best of Neal McCoy is a reminder. While even stalwarts like Alan Jackson, Vince Gill and Patty Loveless were guilty of the occasional radio filler, McCoy’s entire catalog was just that: radio filler. While a twenty-track hits collection is generous by any measure, the songs here are so generically constructed and paint-by-number produced that they blend into each other. As pleasant elevator music, “For a Change” and “That Woman of Mine” get the job done, but they’re certainly not interesting enough to hold your attention for very long.
Indeed, on those rare moments that this collection demands your attention, it’s usually because something genuinely awful has occurred. “The Shake” is as painful to listen to now as it was when it was a hit, and both “Rednecktified” and “Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On” are wince-inducingly terrible.
The irony is that Neal McCoy is one of the era’s finest live performers, with a stage show as electrifying as his recorded music is lackluster. For those looking to cherry-pick, there are a couple of moments here that hint at McCoy’s talents, like the still-charming “Wink” and the forlorn “If I Was a Drinkin’ Man.” But aside from those tracks and the campy “Now I Pray For Rain”, there’s little here to recommend.