april 2008

George Strait
MCA Nashville

George Strait's getting older. The years are creeping up on his once unlined, matinee idol face and in his graying hair. He leads off his new album with the title song, an unabashedly winsome ballad reflecting on the passing of time that sounds torn from a page in his diary, replete as it is with its acknowledgments of insecurities, the contrast between perception and reality when it comes to image and an embrace of the truth about himself (with his buddy Vince Gill providing an angelic backup harmony): "I was a young troubadour when I rode in on a song/I'll be an old troubadour when I'm gone." Strait has never been so frankly personal on record before, but having opened a door into his inner sanctum he proceeds to guide visitors through its various chambers in the same unflinching manner he's adopted at the outset. In the plaintive, spiritually redolent plea "Give Me More Time," singing primarily over a subdued backdrop of strings, lightly strummed acoustic guitar, lonely fiddle and weeping pedal steel, Strait soberly outlines scenes of common folk beseeching the Almighty for another shot at making it right, whether in a business deal or, in the case of a terminally ill 24-year-old youth, in life. The hit single, "I Saw God Today," is a sturdy series of slice-of-life observations on finally seeing God in the details along the way to the birth of his newborn, from 18 hours of labor pains on through to the child's arrival, an awakening he vows in soaring verses to make permanent from now on. Not to suggest that Troubadour emphasizes only the "dour." "The River of Love" bounces along on an bubbly calypso-country rhythm and Strait's carefree crooning (with a funky gospel backup chorus chanting behind him) and he gets back to his honky tonk roots in magnificent fashion on back-to-back gems, the first being the infectious dance floor imperative, "Make Her Fall In Love With Me Song," its rich ambience enhanced by cascading piano fills, sputtering pedal steel lines and even a robust, humming organ; and the second a sprightly fiddle- and piano-fired shuffle sung with Dean Dillon, "That West Texas Town." The first sentence of this review is incomplete. Make it: George Strait is getting older, but he's also getting better. Is that possible? Indubitably.—David McGee

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