First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2009, Volume 16, #9
Written by John Metzger
Tue September 29, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
In the world of mainstream country acts, nobody is better than George Strait. He not only has the hits to prove it, but he also actually sounds authentic when he sings. Lately, though, Strait has been somewhat lost and adrift. Although his 2006 album It Just Comes Natural was solidly delivered, it also contained hints that he was growing weary of his usual routine. Strait tried to break free from his customary formula with last year’s offerings: Troubadour and Classic Christmas. Even by his admittedly crisp and clean standards, however, the outings ultimately were too polished and pristine for their own good. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for Strait to reconnect with his Muse. Although his latest set Twang bears the markings of a transitional endeavor, it also undeniably finds him returning to his roots, albeit with more vigor than he has shown in a while.
Strait has always had a knack for finding quality songs that mesh perfectly with his vocal style. On Twang, he not only nabs two compositions from Jim Lauderdale — the title track and I Gotta Get to You — but he also offers his interpretation of Delbert McClinton’s Same Kind of Crazy. Too often, though, Strait settles into his role as a balladeer. Twang surely would have benefited from a few more honky-tonk odes to Hank Williams. Nevertheless, as he demonstrates on Where Have I Been All My Life, Strait remains remarkably good at finding the sentimental core of his material without sounding absurdly sappy.
The big twist that Strait applies to Twang is that he has resumed writing his own songs. This, of course, is a bold, ambitious move, especially considering how long Strait has been stocking his albums with cover material. Unfortunately, his tunes — the first ones he has penned since 1982 — struggle melodically and lyrically to hold their own against the rest of the tracks on the endeavor. Even Strait’s longtime, hit-generating pal Dean Dillon can’t salvage them. By contrast, Strait’s son Bubba manages to outshine his father. Arkansas Dave may follow closely in the footsteps of its predecessors, such as the outlaw tales by John Phillips and Marty Robbins. Regardless, Bubba Strait’s composition is compelling enough to easily surpass his dad’s cliché-addled, lovelorn laments.
Most important, the songs on Twang are woven together to form a loosely-knit, album-long theme that explores the relationship between fathers and sons. The Breath You Take is a depiction of the circle of life, while Arkansas Dave is a tale of revenge. Where Have I Been All My Life is about finding one’s place and coming to appreciate the wisdom of an older generation. The fact that Strait made the set with his son by his side further cements the overarching concepts that serve as the touchstones for the endeavor.
It is, then, not coincidental that the elder Strait sounds so reinvigorated and engaged on Twang. After all, he and his son have a lot to gain from these sudden shifts in direction. Strait’s performance combined with the strength of Twang’s other songs — which range from the mariachi horn-kissed El Rey to the spry, Cajun-inflected bounce of Hot Grease and Zydeco — allows him to overcome the deficiencies that emanate from his underdeveloped writing style. At times, he is too tentative about leaving his familiar environment, but for the most part, Strait uses Twang to push down the walls that have confined him for years. ½
Of Further Interest...
Twang is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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