November 21, 2011
It’s All Good
It’s impossible to review an album titled It’s All Good without indulging in a few witty remarks. Such a title tends to beg the question of whether or not the album really is “all good.” The vocals are all good, to be sure. Joe Nichols has already proven himself to be one of mainstream country music’s best male vocalists, and on his newest effort, his performances do not disappoint. The production, likewise, is consistently solid. Producers Mark Wright and Buddy Cannon back Nichols with arrangements that sound easily accessible and radio-friendly, while laced with traditional country trimmings of fiddle and steel, and it certainly is enjoyable to hear country music that is sonically recognizable as such.
For all its positive traits, however, the album at times falls into a rut of predictability, leaning on safely inoffensive radio-ready themes that have grown stale from overuse. In that regard, lead single “Take It Off” turns out to be an accurate preview of the album it foreshadowed. The single was released in May, just early enough to capitalize on country radio’s annual summer song mania, albeit with limited success, as the song topped out at #25 on the charts. It’s a fun enough tune, but it’s too forgettable, not to mention interchangeable with any other summer song, to be worth coming back to all year round. Likewise, the country boy hokum of “This Ole Boy” plays like a rote run-of-the-mill Peach Pickers tune that wasn’t particularly interesting when Craig Morgan sang it either, while the Blake Shelton-esque “The More I Look” is nothing more than disposable radio fodder.
Though the quality of the song material is inconsistent, Nichols’ performances often elevate it to a point. While the imagery of “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” is nothing to write home about, Nichols lifts the song to a higher level with his warm and expressive delivery, while a fiddle in the background lends an almost haunting quality to the track. With the title track, Nichols imbues his own distinct personality into a lyric about life’s simple pleasures, while the laid-back traditional country arrangement finishes things off nicely.
In spite of all its middling material, the album’s best moments simply shine. “Somebody’s Mama” offers a novel spin on the timeless theme of “the one that got away,” as the narrator is having a tattoo of his ex-lover’s name covered, and pondering over where she might have ended up in life, assuming that “She’s probably somebody’s mama by now.” The bittersweet lyric fully functions on par with the steel-laden arrangement as well as Nichols’ smooth vocal delivery. The title track “Never Gonna Get Enough” shows a loose and laid-back style along with lyrical imagery that recalls George Jones “Tennessee Whiskey,” while “She’s Just Like That” works well as a simple ode to a woman who is beautiful inside and out.
The album’s finest tracks offer a glimpse of what could have been had the overall caliber of song material been a few degree higher. In the end, we’re left with an album that sounds good, but that could have been better. Of course, the spot-on vocals and solid traditional-leaning arrangements make for an album that is sonically pleasant throughout, with not a single moment that sounds fingernails-on-chalkboard awful. While there are still plenty of listeners who will find such an effort wholly satisfactory, those who prefer country music with a little extra meat to it would likely prefer to cherry-pick it instead. As a whole, It’s All Good plays like a musical piece of candy – mostly enjoyable, but largely insubstantial. Good it is, but great it isn’t.