- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 11, 2009

George Strait “Twang”

MCA Nashville

George Strait is the country-music equivalent of one of those no-drama football coaches - Tom Landry and Bear Bryant spring to mind - who just keep getting it done year in and year out. He’s been with the same label for going on 30 years. He was just honored as the Academy of Country Music’s artist of the decade, with a celebratory concert broadcast on CBS that drew more than 10 million viewers. In June, Mr. Strait christened the Dallas Cowboys’ new stadium with a concert.

In other words, it doesn’t seem like the famously laconic country star has a lot left to prove, and on “Twang,” Mr. Strait’s 26th album for MCA, he plays it that way. The album ambles stylistically between different country and western themes and sub-genres. There is a murder ballad, the power hang-out song, the alcoholic’s lament. There’s poppy Nashville style contemporary country, Western swing and even a Mariachi number.

The work is tied together by Mr. Strait’s rich, effortless baritone. He sings with a cool effect that is rare in a country singer. Even when he’s singing about the bleakest despair or the heights of passion, there is a nod to the theater of song. It makes sense: Mr. Strait is better known for bringing the work of professional songwriters to light than he is for writing his own work.

On “Where Have I Been All My Life,” he takes on the pose of a man who is surprised to find himself delighting in the mellowness brought on by middle age. He sings, “These days broccoli don’t taste so bad/ And neither does swallowing my pride.” The song is carried by a tinkle of piano, strings and a caramel-sweet pedal steel.

“Same Kind of Crazy” pays honor to love at first sight with a grinding two-step that is propelled by slide guitar and organ. The big misstep on here is “The Breath You Take,” which draws out a maudlin father-son moment on a baseball field to make the larger point that “life’s not the breath you take/but the moments that take your breath away.” Cue violins, one thinks, and there they are.

The father-son theme may be close to Mr. Strait’s heart on “Twang.” The interpreter of songs here co-wrote several songs with his son Bubba. One of these, “Living for the Night” is the album’s single. It combines a stiffly strummed guitar part that is strangely reminiscent of the Police album “Synchronicity.” The song is all slow burn and mellow regret, so the line “Whiskey kills the man you turned me into” hits with unexpected force. The two also collaborated on “Out of Sight, Out of Mind,” another hangdog song about lost love that feels merely competent by comparison.

Suffice it to say that, yet again, Mr. Strait has produced an album with more hits than misses.

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