A paragon of consistency, George Strait debuted in 1981, just as the Urban Cowboy fad was fading. But Strait, a true-to-life Texas buckaroo, is no fad, and judging by his newest album, Troubadour, he’s surely not fading. Strait has rarely left the comforts of traditional stylings, and his blend of honky-tonk uptempos and lovestruck lullabies has become a time-honored tradition that continues to thrive despite mainstream trends. As Strait eases through his 50s, he’s found new creases in his voice and gleans new meaning within each lyric. Troubadour manages to balance self-reflection with a sense of humor to form a worthy addition to his estimable catalog.
Now more than ever, Strait wrestles with the idea of mortality, both his own and the future prospects of the traditional music in which he trades. He duets with traditionalist Patty Loveless on “House of Cash,” a moving ode that, in vivid detail, describes the blaze that leveled the Cash home just last year. It’s a loving memoir to the famous estate, but also acknowledges the end of a brilliant chapter in country history. Vince Gill provides harmony vocal on the title track, as Strait sings about his youth with nostalgia, while recognizing that his stubborn nature will remain until his dying day. And “Give Me More Time” describes the demise of a farmer’s fortunes, a romantic relationship and a young man’s health in three minutes of hillbilly misery.
But Troubadour counters its more serious impulses with songs of uplift. Buoyed by the steel solo of virtuoso Paul Franklin, the album’s lead single, “I Saw God Today,” finds a grateful man welcoming a daughter into the world and acknowledges his spiritual revival. Strait’s need for a boot-scootin’ good time is also alive and well. Strait has always excelled in Western-style settings, from “Amarillo by Morning” to “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” and he draws water from that deep well again on Troubadour. He exhibits his cool swagger on “Make Her Fall In Love With Me Song,” a honky tonk shuffle that leads nicely into the neat swing of “West Texas Town,” his duet with Dean Dillon.
But instead of forging on in this direction, Strait strays from his bread-and-butter template, and the results are underwhelming. “River of Love” is an awkward sojourn into the Caribbean rhythms that are now a Music Row staple, and the silly concept of the song conspires to make it a throwaway ditty. The complacent “Brothers of the Highway” rehashes old road-warrior anthems, and “When You’re In Love” is another of the interchangeable romantic ballads that have dotted his career.
The best song on Troubadour is a flesh-and-blood profession of romance gone awry. “House With No Doors,” penned by Kacey Coppola, Kate Coppola, and Jamey Johnson, explores, and eventually denies, the possibility that a man can build an enclosed castle to keep a woman from going astray. The sound of its lonesome fiddle, when matched with Strait’s laconic drawl, is a bittersweet siren. Strait sings with assurance as he warns a stranger that a restless heart can’t be taught or tamed, and it’s this conversational style, calm, comforting and sympathetic, that elevates Strait into a class of his own.
The album closes with “If Heartaches Were Horses,” where Strait imagines a time when he’ll “ride home at sunset, sitting tall in the saddle.” It comes as welcome relief to traditionalists that the time isn’t now. Strait’s unhurried sense of purpose builds interest with every drop of his Texas twang, and with Troubadour, Strait maintains his status as a country music immortal.
I was wondering why you guys never got to this. George Strait is worth the review no matter which part of country music you come from.
Sadly, I was very underwhelmed by this album.
You missed the second track, “It Was Me.”
I agree with Leeann that this album was underwhelming (though I still love it). I know for me that was mostly because his last album, It Just Comes Natural, was just so amazingly good. With a robust 15 tracks, there were still some great songs they could’ve mined for singles–just a great country album.
Casey, you’re speaking my language! I really loved It Just Comes Natural and was disappointed in this album by that standard, I think.
@Casey: Nice catch. When I set out to write a review, I usually write about 6-7 tracks in some detail. I hadn’t realized “It Was Me” was the only one I didn’t mention, but maybe that says something about the song. :)
It Just Comes Natural would be a 4, maybe a 4.5 in my book. I agree with both you and Leeann in being a little underwhelmed.
I dunno, I think the cliche “worth the price of admission” kind of applies here. For me, “House of Cash” and “Brothers of the Highway”…these songs alone are worth the price of the album.
But I too have been underwhelmed, though not with the album as a whole, but rather with George Strait’s selection of the weakest songs,(IMO) as his choices for singles.
Still waiting for Mr. Strait to release his awesome duet with Patty Loveless, House of Cash, as a single…Maybe now that the song has a Grammy nomination, it will happen!
Maybe I am biased, but I love this CD. I think George did a good job on it and the diversity of the album appeals to a bigger audience. I truly hope and think he deserves to win the grammy for this album.
Troubadour is a great CD for Mr. Strait! I agree that one more single off of ‘it just comes natural’ would have been great. I love “if heartaches were horses’, ‘make her fall in love with me song’, and ‘give me more time.’ I am a consistant followers of George, and I would say this album is a four. Natural is about a four and half. I wish he would have released ‘why cant i leave her a lone’ I think it would have got George some attention from younger audiance. I agree that George has picked some lackluster singles lately. ‘River of Love’ being the worst in a while. It wont be long and we will be talking about the next new albulm.
Thumbs up for this review. ‘House With No Doors’ is a great song.