Strait previewed his eighth studio album, If You Ain't Lovin' You Ain't Livin', with a cover of a minor hit by Dean Dillon from 1983.
It's a solid song, but Strait's performance is oddly distant, and he sings it in a register that's slightly too low. He may have hemmed to closely to Dean's original recording, which is ultimately more successful as a record than Strait's chart-topping version.
Jackson does so many basic things right on his new album that it's tempting to award him five stars right off the bat.
The production is clean, his singing doesn't get in the way of the songs, and those songs have complete ideas and actual structure. It's the first mainstream country album in a long time that isn't overrun with production tricks, or kicking up the loudness to eleven, or playing an exaggerated personality type that's condescending to its audience.
In short, it's what we used to expect most country albums to be, but in today's climate, it sounds almost revelatory upon first listen. Truth is, it's just a solid Alan Jackson album, and when put in the context of his own body of work, away from the comparisons to today's substandard standard-bearers, it demonstrates his usual consistency but perhaps not the creativity that has fueled his best work.
Jackson co-wrote about half the album, and he revisits some of the themes that have resulted in his greatest performances, but the latest variants are not as distinctive and memorable. “Dixie Highway” captures his love for his upbringing and his roots, but despite charming support from Zac Brown, it's just not specific and urgent enough to meet the bar he set with “Home”, “Chattahoochee”, “Drive (For Daddy Gene)”, and “Small Town Southern Man.”
“Everything But the Wings” is a beautiful love song with some poetic turns of phrase, but it doesn't have the seductive romance of “I'll Go On Loving You” or the personal poignancy of “Remember When.” Similarly, there are some brilliant lines scattered throughout the solemn closing track, “When I Saw You Leaving (For Nisey)”, but the rambling narrative lacks the potent simplicity of “Sissy's Song” and “Monday Morning Church.”
The latter of those two classics was penned by outside writers, and interestingly, it is the outside material that shines brightest on Thirty Miles West. “You Go Your Way” is a goodbye song in the same vein as the George Strait classic “Easy Come, Easy Go”, but it's not so easy for the protagonist of this one. It has one of those great couplets that only sounds right in a real country song, soaked in fiddles and steel guitar: “I poured some bourbon in a coffee cup. It's been too long since I drank too much.”
Only a man who could sing that line convincingly could also get away with the opener, “Gonna Come Back as a Country Song”, which finds him promising his wife that she needn't grieve once he's gone, providing reincarnation is real. He'll be back as a country song, living in eternal paradise “between the fiddle and the steel guitar.”
Two breakup songs are even better. “She Don't Get High” has something of a misleading title, with its lament being that he “don't make her fly anymore…Hard as I try, I'm not the sky she's looking for.” Even better is the current single, “So You Don't Have to Love Me Anymore”, which isn't just the best song Alan Jackson has recorded in the past few years. It's better than nearly everyone else's best, too.
But my personal favorite moment comes from Jackson's own pen: “Her Life's a Song.” It tells the story of a woman who loves every type of music and associates all of the big and little moments of her life with it. He creates a totally believable character, and does so without succumbing to a single female stereotype or disparaging other genres and styles for the sake of putting country on a pedestal. In a weird way, it's like the music lover's counterpart to the universality of “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”, celebrating everyone's experience with music as valid and worth singing about.
More than thirty years into his legendary career, George Strait has released the most compelling single of his career with “Drinkin' Man.”
An alcoholic examines his past and present with clear eyes, looking into the mirror while still holding on to the bottle. With sad resignation, he remembers the parents who worried about him, the friends that tried to save him, and the woman who loved him in spite of his affliction.
Strait isn't known for dealing with such challenging subject matter, but his experience as a singer and remarkable growth as a songwriter have resulted in the genre's best drinking song in recent memory. It's something that Merle Haggard or George Jones would have produced at their peak.
I don't know if radio can handle something this substantive from an artist that they tend to love most when he's frivolous these days. But whether or not it receives wide airplay, this is the finest single that George Strait has ever released.
Written by Dean Dillon, Bubba Strait, and George Strait
Subtly clever, yet deceptively simple, with a strong undercurrent of heartache. In other words… classic Strait.
In an excellent lyric co-written by Dean Dillon, Royce Porter, and Hank “I Fall to Pieces” Cochran, the narrator tells his soon-to-be-ex-lover that he won’t miss her when she’s gone, won’t ever take her back, and won’t be haunted by her memory. He then reveals the sheer untruth of his claims by saying “Now if you’ll buy that… I got some ocean front property in Arizona…. If you’ll buy that I’ll throw the Golden Gate in for free.” He thus likens the impossibility of his moving on to that of obtaining ocean front property in a landlocked state.
Strait’s vocal interpretation is just straightforward enough to keep the song’s left-of-center metaphor from coming across as campy, keeping the undertone of sadness fully intact A simple steel-laden arrangement has helped the song age with dignity, making for yet another memorable classic Strait record that retains its appeal a full quarter century after its release.
Written by Dean Dillon, Hank Cochran, and Royce Porter
It’s rare that the melody of a song’s verses is just about as memorable and catchy as its chorus, but such is the case with George Strait’s “It Ain’t Cool to be Crazy About You.” Just hearing the first strains of the simple piano intro makes it almost impossible to get the tune out of your head once it’s there. What’s more, words like “suave” and “debonair” make it nearly irresistible to sing along with.
However, There’s more to this established earworm than a memorable tune. Strait adeptly portrays the imbalance of a relationship where he is much more invested than the woman happens to be. While he knows he’s being jerked around by her, he can’t help but be crazy about her anyway.
While it almost seems like just a catchy ditty on the surface, Strait’s delivery of a mix of sadness and regret, with a hint of frustration, turns this song into something substantive with a relatable scenario.
Is it good at being lightweight radio fluff? Again, yes.
“Lovin’ You Is Fun,” our first preview of Easton Corbin’s second album, is a smooth, steel-heavy two-stepper, which Corbin effortlessly eases into with his signature laid-back vocal style that repeatedly draws comparisons to George Strait. Not surprisingly, the lyrics don’t warrant much explanation, but the sonic packaging almost makes them seem inconsequential. Corbin gives a rapid-fire delivery of the song’s wordy verses, while Carson Chamberlain’s ’90′s-esque production, ripe with the twangy sounds that spell “country,” makes “Lovin’ You Is Fun” an easily accessible, likable cut.
After emerging as one of 2009′s most refreshing new talents with back-to-back chart toppers “A Little More Country Than That” and “Roll with It,” Corbin hasn’t had a hit single on the country charts since going Top 20 in 2010 with “I Can’t Love You Back.” Like his previous hits, “Lovin’ You Is Fun” is poised to act as a pleasant mood-breaker on increasingly rocked-up radio playlists. Of course, that’s not to say that I want to hear an entire album stacked with light romantic ditties. Corbin would do well to balance out the lighweight fare with material of greater depth.
That said, “Lovin’ You” is indeed fun, and it’s more than enough to make me very happy that Easton Corbin is back.
Vern Gosdin took a long and winding road to Nashville, but once he got there, he became one of the most significant traditional voices of his generation.
Born and raised in Alabama, Gosdin sang gospel with his family as a child. After a brief time in Chicago, Gosdin moved to California in the early sixties. As part of the West Coast country scene, he was one of the Hillmen alongside Chris Hillman, who would later be part of the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and the Desert Rose Band.
Gosdin then formed a duo with his brother Rex. As the Gosdin Brothers, they had a minor hit with “Hangin’ On” in 1967. After a brief retirement in the first half of the seventies, Gosdin launched a solo career with the same single, and it went higher on the charts, thanks to harmony vocals provided by Emmylou Harris.
Gosdin had the classic journeyman experience as a Nashville recording artist, scoring hits for several different labels in the late seventies and throughout the eighties. He became known as the Voice, and influenced not only the singers that came after him, but even some of his peers of the time. In the late eighties, he reached a new career peak with Columbia Records, scoring eight top ten hits, with two #1 singles among them.
The absolute highlight of his tenure at Columbia was the award-winning “Chiseled in Stone.” Thought it didn’t hit the top five, it became Gosdin’s signature song and powered the veteran singer to his first gold record. His epic 1989 album Alone is often cited as his strongest work, as it was written in the wake of his failing marriage.
Gosdin didn’t have commercial success after leaving Columbia, but he did continue to record and perform up until his death in 2009. Stars like George Strait and Brad Paisley have since covered Gosdin tracks, and he is often cited as an influence among up and coming traditionalist singers.
Till the End, 1977
Today My World Slipped Away, 1982
If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong (Do it Right), 1983
I Can Tell by the Way You Dance (You’re Gonna Love Me Tonight), 1984