The albums and their reviews listed here date from 1998. They are special to me because during that time in my life they motivated and encouraged me with songs that had meaning. The albums themselves had a special feeling to them. It was almost like I could read what George was going through in his life by the choice of his material and the resulting tone of each album.
George's 28th album "The Road Less Traveled" was released on November 6th, 2001 and is a testament to his awesome vocal talent, and his unerring ability to know a good song when he hears it. By the time he has felt it and recorded it the song is his.
Strait's current album, TRLT, shows a modern-day country master at his best- wrapping that warm, inviting baritone around a well-written song. The talented Texan paints a portrait of a heartbreaker who is destined to leave some poor guy broken-hearted but with fond memories that will leave him with a smile. This song boasts one of those melodies that's clean and simple yet manages to insinuate itself into the listener's memory, so that you'll find yourself humming the chorus over and over long after the song has ended. Here's another winner from one of country's most consistent veterans.
-- At last, a 'for-real' country album tops the chart. George Strait's self-titled album debuts at the top of Billboard's Top Country Albums chart, selling more than 106-thousand copies in its first week, which makes it Number Seven on the overall album charts.
George Strait paints a simple picture: the quiet man who favors family above career and shies away from the spotlight. And it's a true portrait, says his record producer and label president, Tony Brown.
"Family is definitely the priority. The career supports the family, not the other way around," says Tony. "He doesn't like calling attention to himself." But when he steps into the studio, George pays strict attention to every detail. "George and I have co-produced his last several albums and he is always very hands on."
George's new album is no exception. The rancher/singer rolled up his sleeves and immersed himself in every decision - including the title. "It's going to be called -guess what - George Strait!" pronounces Brown with a laugh. "Believe it or not, it's his first self-titled album. George and I knew it sounded so simple, but when we first started thinking of titles, we couldn't come up with one. George told me, 'I can't even think of one of the song titles that might work.' When I said, 'How about just George Strait?' he kind of grinned -- and agreed. George is very easy to work with."
At the same time, the superstar can be painstakingly detailed when it comes to song selection. "George always loves to do a couple of old tunes for each album," says Tony. "So, when I hear George say, 'You gotta find some of those,' I know I have my work cut out for me."
That's because George is a walking encyclopedia of country classics. "He's always pulling out stuff that you've never heard of before. The songs he remembers - it's just amazing,"notes Tony, chuckling slightly. One in particular was "Looking Out My Window Throught The Pain," recorded by the late Mel Street. "He is a big Mel Street fan, and he also thinks that's one of the greatest titles ever written. George told me that he likes how 'pain' kind of has a double meaning. But I had to go to the Country Music Foundation library to get a copy of the song, because most of what Street recorded is out of print now. Somehow, George remembered it."
Two of George's favorite songwriters, Dean Dillon and Jim Lauderdale, applied their talents again to the new album, which is set for release September 19. Dean contributed "If It's Gonna Rain," while Jim co-wrote "Don't Make Me Come Over There and Love You." "If It's Gonna Rain" was designed with George in mind. "Dean's melodies seem to fit George's voice," notes Tony. "But he also goes to Dean because he's such a great lyricist. He writes like George thinks, very matter-of-factly and down-to-earth."
Tony, who's known George for more than a decade, also believes that the superstar chooses certain songs because they serve as therapy - for himself and the fans. "The songs he picks reflects where he is at that particular point in his life. So listeners can relate. George is saying what they want to say but can't express."
Some of the albums tunes, however, are just plain fun. "Don't Make Me Come Over There and Love You" rolls with the rockabilly rhythm that attracts George like a magnet. "It has that Elvis Presley vibe, " says Tony, who ought to know - he once played piano in Elvis's band.
For the first time on any of his records, George chose a Rodney Crowell song, "The Night's Just Right For Love." "It speaks for a middle-aged guy like George. It's a great love song. But that might have been one that George wasn't sure about. He looked at that song for a period of about a year, and I never heard back from him. Finally, I called George about it, and he said, 'Oh, yeah, I'm still digging that.' He didn't record it, though, until the end of the session. He was waiting for the right moment."
"He has an instinct for how things should be done," raves Tony. "He doesn't come off as being 'in charge', but he is definitely hands-on in the studio. He gives his input and the sessions happen very quickly." Tony adds in an admiring tone, "George has a great sense of arrangement. Sometimes, he'll say, 'Why don't we try this instrument,' or 'Can we do this a little differently.' I might be a little skeptical or not sure about it, but when you listen to the final result, he's always right."
He's also on target when it comes to delivering a song's message. "I compare him a lot to Frank Sinatra, in the sense that he has mastered the art of interpretation. He envisions how a song should be sung and he never fails to please. I know because that's what the songwriters always tell me - that George interpreted their song the way they hoped it would be." Count legendary writer Hank Cochran among that group. George selected Hank's "You're Stronger Than Me," a shuffle tune previously recorded by both Patsy Cline and Ray Price. for the album.
"Hank just couldn't wait to hear how George would do it," recalls Tony. "So He came over to the studio during the session. His eyes just sparkled. George just loves it when the writers react that way. To him, that's the highest compliment."
The first single from the album, "Go On", is currently riding high on the charts. Another possible single is "Home Improvement," which Tony describes as flowing with a "Cajuny"feel. "It has the same infectious atmosphere as 'Adalida'. I see it as a real crowd-pleaser."
Of course, every Strait song seems to go straight to the heart of the listener. "George arrives there without a lot of fuss and bother. He's not one to push the envelope, but neither does he try to keep the envelope closed. He just tries to give people what they want. And he does it pretty damn good!" First Single release: "Go On"
Strait introduces his forthcoming album with this wistful tale of broken love and emotional renewal. The lyric finds Strait lending a sympathetic ear to a woman who has been burned by her former flame. Slightly reminiscent of previous hits such as "The Chair,'' the song has an appealing conversational quality that almost makes listeners feel as if they are eavesdropping on a private discussion and privy to the beginnings of a blossoming new romance.
Strait continues to work the same vocal magic that has made him the king of country crooners. His delivery is so effortless, so perfectly in tune with the lyric. The song has a lilting, inviting melody that is perfectly suited for summertime airwaves. All in all, a wonderful kickoff for what is sure to be another hit album.
The gentlemanly cowboy from Texas exists on a plane above the rest of Nashville, insulated from industry politics and fly-by-night musical trends by a rock-solid fan base and the long string of platinum albums he has released over the last 2 decades.
His latest, titled simply ``George Strait,'' does little to imperil his lofty perch. It delivers, as usual, the surefire mix of optimism, heartache and wink-and-a-nudge mischief that has won him an unshakable following. The only thing missing this time out is a good rodeo song.
As always, Strait has Nashville's best mainstream songwriters at his disposal, and the cream of the crop is well represented on this effort, including Don Schlitz, Jim Lauderdale and longtime Strait associate Dean Dillon.
Still, there are some subtle differences at work here. Strait, 48, sounds a little older and wiser. Production on many of the tracks is leaner and simpler, and the singer appears more willing to allow his voice's rough edges to show. Listen to the opening bars of first single ``Go On,'' and you'll hear him push the rarely heard upper limits of his vocal range.
Then there's the unlikely but charming pairing of Strait with a tune by left-field songwriter Rodney Crowell. ``The Night's Just Right for Love'' is sweet and lyrically simple (by Crowell standards, at least), and Strait, a master of no-nonsense phrasing, works wonders with lines like ``I don't mind the thought of growing old/ But I don't want to lose my sense of humor.''
NASHVILLE, Tenn., March 15 /PRNewswire/ -- Country music superstar George Strait has nailed the number one spot on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart with the debut of his greatest hits collection, "Latest Greatest Straitest Hits." The album landed at the number two spot on the Billboard 200 album charts.
According to Soundscan, "Latest Greatest Straitest Hits" is Strait's second highest debut and selling week ever and the fourth highest selling week and second highest debut ever in the history of MCA Nashville.
Bruce Hinton, Chairman MCA Nashville, commented, "This amazing debut speaks to the integrity and longevity George possesses. Country music fans have confirmed what we have believed all along, George is an icon, a living legend, and I am extremely proud of George and the MCA Nashville team that helped to make this impressive debut."
Strait is currently at number 2* on Billboard's Hot Country Singles chart with his latest, "The Best Day," one of two new Tony Brown/George Strait produced tracks found on the greatest hits collection. The other track is the Strait/Alan Jackson duet, "Murder on Music Row."
If this isn't country music's dream team, what is? George Strait and Alan Jackson, two saviors of traditional country music in these pop-infused times, have joined forces to record a song that has tongues wagging. Penned by Larry Cordle and Larry Shell, the song was originally released on the current album by Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time. It immediately created a ruckus on Music Row and stirred the passions of traditional country music fans. The well-written lyric charges that someone murdered traditional country music. Such lines as, "The almighty dollar and the lust for worldwide fame slowly killed tradition and for that someone should pay" are serving as a rallying cry for fans of traditional country music and generating tremendous listener response. The song is included on Strait's recently released "Latest Greatest Straitest
Hits" package, and though MCA has yet to issue the cut as a single, that hasn't stopped radio and listener from propelling the tune to No. 47 and Hot Shot Debut status on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart this issue. Musically, it's the kind of song that will make you reach for the nearest cold longneck beer. Lyrically, who can argue with the charges? And as for the performance, Strait and Jackson singing together is the ultimate musical treat for traditional country fans. This is more than a great record. It's a dead-on indictment of what's wrong with the country music industry today. It could just launch a revolution.
* Note: "The Best Day" was George's 36th Number One Single. A duet with Alan Jackson "Murder On Music Row" was never released as a single. I read that Alan's record company was hesitant to get him involved in the controversy but I have a feeling there was more involved. It's too bad because the song is Country Music at it's finest. Here you have two of the best voices in traditional Country music collaborating to make a powerful statement that aroused traditional Country Fans. It gave us a taste of what we craved, the true Country sound, along with great lyrics and melody to say nothing of the voices involved. The entire story of this song is available on my page dedicated to this song. It contains the lyrics, the reviews, the interviews with the writers, photos from the Awards Shows, and photos from the concert tour of George and Alan performing it live in front of thousands of screaming fans.
George Strait is a lot like a good bottle of wine. He's smooth, tasteful, gets better with age, and every ounce he delivers is worth savoring. Like many of his best offerings, this stunning single captures a slice of life that will make first-time listeners catch their breath as they smile at its simplicity and emotional impact. The lyric chronicles father/son experiences, from a 7-year-old's camping trip to a teen working on his car with his dad to the son's wedding.
It's a well-written tale that listeners will find easily relatable, and the chorus makes this the ultimate feel-good tune to kick off the millennium. It's a great song, and who better to sing it than Strait? His warm-throated delivery is all honest emotion--no showboating and posturing. It's a performance that resonates with the integrity and charm people have come to expect from this talented Texan.
George Strait has defined the modern country-music era and is unequaled in both the consistency of his hit making and in the profound influence he has had on a generation of stylists. He has more Country Music Association Award nominations than any artist in history. According to Billboard Monitor, Strait is second only to Mariah Carey as radio's most played artist during the past five years.
Strait Out of the Box is the biggest selling boxed set in country music and ranks with sets by Led Zeppelin and Bruce Springsteen as tops in music overall. Pure Country is five times platinum. Ocean Front Property made history as the first album to debut at No. 1 on the country charts. Blue Clear Sky and Carrying Your Love With Me were back-to-back CMA Album of the Year winners in 1996-97; and Strait is the reigning Male Vocalist of the Year for the fifth time in his career.
He has more than 40 major show business awards and more than 40 No.1 singles. he holds more than 20 attendance records at venues from coast to coast and is the only act to perform for more than a million fans at the massive "Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show." Strait finished just behind his disciple Garth Brooks as country's top-grossing act of 1998. Always Never the Same, George Strait's 24th MCA album, will coincide with the superstar's second "George Strait Country Music Festival" arena touring extravaganza. "Meanwhile," the album's harmony-layered first single, became 1999's first "Hot Shot Debut" on the charts.
Other highlights include the title tune, with its stuttering electric guitars and funky backbeat; the lilting, "What Do You Say To That," the punchy two-stepper "One Of You;" the gently rippling, rhythmic, "Peace of Mind," and a pair of stunning, hard-country weepers that let you know you are truly in the presence of country-music greatness, "That's The Truth," and "4 Minus 3 Equals Zero."
"Strait possesses the longest streak of hit singles at country radio - starting with 1981's "Unwound" and continuing through to his last release, "We Really Shouldn't Be Doing This." This lilting ballad looks sure to continue that winning streak. Penned by two of Music Row's master tunesmiths, Wayland Holyfield and Fred Knobloch, the lyric offers an unusual twist on a familiar theme. Though enjoying a new relationship, the man involved can't help but keep flashing back on a former lover. The use of the word "Meanwhile" to signal the shifts in his emotional focus makes the song almost feel like an episodic TV romance with an unresolved lovers' triangle. And through it all, Strait's voice sounds like he's lived every word --- the pleasure, the nostalgia, the wistful longing. It all adds up to a great song that will have couples swirling around a sawdust covered dance floor and melting with delight."
George Strait fans will be happy to know his new CD will be hitting the stores (March 9). It's called ALWAYS NEVER THE SAME, and I'm one lucky guy, because I got to be one of the first people in Arizona to hear the whole thing. I know I said his last album, ONE STEP AT A TIME, was one of his best. But this one tops it.
"Meanwhile," is the first single, and we've been playing it for about a month already. It's a change of pace for George, and a bit different musically. But he really pulls it off, and it's very contagious.
There's a song on every George Strait album his female fans look for - the one that makes you drift off and dream that he's singing it to you and no one else. That would be track four, "What'll You say to That."
My favorite might be "Peace of Mind." It's a great little travelin' tune that would have worked perfectly on the Pure Country soundtrack, where he tosses everything to the winds and escapes. "Just to be free and do as I please, free to be just plain fine." Tell you what. let's flip a coin for the direction and we'll just take off!
As for which ones are likely to be singles, there's one way to get a clue on that. Go to the Strait Festival. If George is running true to form, he'll sing a couple of tunes off this new CD. If you like them and let him know it, you'll probably hear them on the radio one day. The man is here to please. And this is as pleasing an album as he's ever given us.
George Strait has defined the modern country music era like no other performer -- an entire generation of stylists cites him as a profound musical influence, a beacon of artistic consistency and a role model of grace and dignity.
But what is perhaps most impressive about the humble Texas rancher is that he is still raising the bar with each new collection of songs. Always Never The Same, George Strait's 24th album with MCA, is a breath-taking demonstration of his continuing powers as a stylist. He seems to be delving ever deeper into his soul as his music evolves; these songs are delivered with such impressive vocal phrasing that Always Never The Same is a simply stunning palate of emotional colors.
As the album's co-producer (with Tony Brown), Strait has underscored his performances with sonic touches that perfectly highlight his every emotional turn. "Meanwhile," the album's first single, has a yearning, wistful quality you can almost touch. And when he layers those vocal harmonies on the choruses of this power waltz, it's just about the closest thing you'll ever hear to country music heaven. Other highlights include the stuttering electric guitars and funky backbeat applied to the title tune, Strait's lilting delivery of "What Do You Say To That," the punchy two-stepper "One of You" and the gentle rippling rhythms of "Peace of Mind."
"Write This Down" communicates innocence and joy. "That's Where I Wanna Take Our Love" is a deeply sensual ballad. "I Look At You" has the sweet lyrics of enduring love. Strait gets to the emotional core of each one.
When he taps into pain and heartache, you know you are truly in the presence of a country music master. On "That's The Truth," Strait's lower register dips and growls are shadowed by Paul Franklin's aching steel guitar and Steve Nathan's slip-note piano in a brilliant illustration of what country-lovers call a "honky-tonk weeper." With equal hard-core conviction, Strait gives the divorce lyric "4 Minus 3 Equals Zero" true hurt and anguish. This is country music the way it is meant to be sung.
George Strait releases Always Never The Same as the Country Music Association's reigning "Male Vocalist of the Year." This is the fifth time he has worn this crown and he is the only artist in history who has been so honored in two different decades. During his astoundingly successful career, he has amassed more CMA award nominations than any artist. He has collected more than 40 other major show business awards and 43 Number 1 singles.
This superlative artist has recorded 23 previous albums for MCA. All of them are still in print. All of them are gold, platinum or multi-platinum. Blue Clear Sky and Carrying Your Love With Me were back-to-back CMA "Album of the Year" winners in 1996-97. The Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association named Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind "Album of the Year". Strait Out Of The Box is the biggest selling boxed set in country music and ranks with sets by Led Zeppelin and Bruce Springsteen as tops in music overall. Pure Country is five times Platinum. Ocean Front Property made history as the first album to debut at No. 1 on the country charts.
As a live performer, George Strait holds more than 20 attendance records at venues from coast to coast. He is the only act to perform for more than a million fans at the massive Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show. Strait finished just behind his disciple, Garth Brooks, as country's top-grossing act of 1998. The release of Always Never the Same will coincide with the superstar's second "George Strait Country Music Festival" arena-touring extravaganza.
Despite the magnitude of his stardom, George Strait has retained the same courteous humility he had when he arrived on the scene nearly 20 years ago. He was then, and is now, simply a genuine cowboy with a genuine love of country music.
While working as a foreman on a Texas cattle ranch, Strait recorded singles in the Lone Star State in 1976-79 and became a top regional attraction. Meanwhile, manager Erv Woolsey was climbing to a vice-presidency at MCA Nashville. In 1980, the two men found a tune called "Unwound" and lobbied the label to sign the shy fellow in the cowboy hat. Strait was told to get rid of his western look. He refused.
"Unwound" became the first of George Strait's dazzling string of top-10 hits in early 1981. By 1984, his music was being hailed as the cornerstone of a "new traditionalist" movement in county music. Honky-tonk lovers looked upon Strait as a savior who had rescued their music from pop-country oblivion. Woolsey exited MCA to devote his full energies to the star's career and Strait began co-producing his records.
The awards and gold records were rolling in by 1985. As the '80s became the '90s, Strait basked in two consecutive wins as country's "Entertainer of the Year." Newcomers like Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Clint Black were citing him as their mentor and inspiration, but George Strait was far from finished. He graduated to movie stardom with Pure Country in 1992, sang a duet with Frank Sinatra in 1994 and assembled the phenomenally successful Strait Out Of The Box in 1995.
Then, he swung for the fences. "Blue Clear Sky" and "Carried Away" helped make him country's top singles artist of 1996. "One Night At A Time," "Carrying Your Love With Me" and "Today My World Slipped Away" became consecutive chart-topping hits and made him country's top singles artist of 1997.
Another wave of country newcomers was now citing him as an inspiration - Clay Walker, Tracy Byrd, Mark Wills and others - but George Strait kept out-slugging every rookie on the field. "Round About Way," "I Just Want To Dance With You," "True" and "We Really Shouldn't Be Doing This" made 1998 one of the best years of his phenomenal career.
As we approach the millennium, he's releasing the album of a lifetime. It boasts a supporting cast that includes guitarists Randy Scruggs and Brent Mason, Nashville Bluegrass Band fiddler Stuart Duncan and Strait's career-long harmony vocalists Curtis Young and Liana Manis. Blue-ribbon songwriters such as Hank Cochran, Melba Montgomery, Jim Lauderdale, Fred Knobloch, Terry McBride, Jeff Stevens and Dean Dillion also contributed to the project.
In the end, this is a musical statement from the man whose name it bears. It is a name that means "sincerity," "honesty" and "class." It is a name that completely defines the words "country music" -- George Strait.
Heavens, with George Strait releasing a new album a year, it must be a difficult task to pick the contenders for air play - nearly everything he does is fine radio fare, but you can only have so many singles 'twixt album projects.
This latest, apparently his 24th for MCA, is a case in point. Eight of the ten tracks here would be a smash on the singles chart. OK, so anything Strait does will go top shop, but never have I heard so many obviously hit songs in one package.
The exceptions are the road song, "Peace of Mind," which is pretty ordinary by George's normally immaculate standards, and the fine divorce song "4 minus 3 equals zero," whose subject matter may not fit easily with radio programming of the 90's (Oh, for the good old days...)
Current single is the waltz "Meanwhile" a Fred Knobloch-Wayland Holyfield co-write that is, unsurprisingly, heading towards the Top 10 as I write. It's the story of a man who, despite his envious involvement with a beautiful girl, cannot get his former love out of his mind.
I contend that "Write This Down," a plea to a leaving woman never to forget her man's love for her, is going to be one of the biggest smashes of Strait's career. A cleverly constructed and memorable chorus allied to a superb vocal performance will guarantee that.
Potential hits continue. Take your pick of the blissful 3/4 '"That's the Truth," the latin tempoed "Always Never The Same," the 60s sounding country of "One of You," and the modern ballad "I Look At You."
It was nice, too, to hear George revive the delicious Dean Dillon/Hank Cochran song "That's Where I Want to Take Our Love," previously cut by Dawn Sears on her impeccable (and only) Decca album a few years back. It's a lovely story extolling the joy of love in rustic surroundings, and what a wonderfull line is "while I'm making you a mama to Mother Nature's sound."
So, George does it again. The man really is a phenomenon, revered as a national Texas treasure, for doing what comes naturally to him. Where others rely on spectacle, light shows and extravaganza, he simply picks up a guitar and sings. And that's where his strength lies, for in his unassuming, seemingly effortless way, George Strait reaches into people's hearts.
George Strait is back. Where has he been? Well, his 1998 "One Step at a Time" CD only sold a million copies. While that's a bonanza for most artists, it's not to Strait, especially when you consider his 1997 "Carrying Your Love With Me" sold 3 million.
The first single, "Meanwhile," is one of the hottest on radio and appears destined to become No. 1. Strait's vocal communicates the song's emotions: "We take to the dance floor, she squeezes my hand/I can't believe how lucky I am/Meanwhile, back in the back of my memory/You're still dancing with me."
One of the album's sleepers is "4 Minus 3 Equals Zero," a song about a divorce and a man losing his wife and two kids: "You always said you loved me/And I always believed you did/But now you say you're leaving/And taking both of the kids."
Country singer George Strait has relied on an unassailable mix of honky-tonk, Western swing and romantic ballads throughout his career, and it has served him well. His albums are only as good as his material, though, and his new "Always Never the Same" (MCA) benefits from particularly savvy selection.
The album contains a handful of cuts from Music Row's best young writers, including two from Jim Lauderdale. It also boasts other songs penned by such venerable tunesmiths as Hank Cochran and Melba Montgomery.
"That's the Truth," a barroom weeper written by Montgomery and Steve Leslie, is a hard-country waltz worthy of George Jones. "What Do You Say to That," a shimmering love song, showcases Strait at his tender best, while the album's wrenching closing track, "4 Minus 3 Equals Zero," counts the emotional costs of divorce.
The arrangements here are also fresher than those on Strait's last couple of albums. With fiddle and steel up in the mix, "Write This Down," "Peace of Mind" and the title track each ride a steady-rolling, if genteel, groove. The latter two songs also employ countrypolitan-style strings to great effect, much as Glen Campbell did with "Gentle on My Mind."
Even the burnished ballads on the album contain flourishes -- the tremolo guitar on "Meanwhile," the barroom piano on "4 Minus 3 Equals Zero" -- that set them apart from much of what's being cranked out by the Nashville hit mill. None of these nuances, though, would be worth noting if it weren't for Strait's molasses baritone, a voice that approximates that of such peerless stylists as Bing Crosby and Lefty Frizzell.
After more than two dozen albums over the past 18 years, George Strait remains the true king of contemporary country. Always firmly understated, his albums are the cream of country taste. Not a writer, he nevertheless is probably the most astute song judge in the business. By now, of course, he automatically commands the best that Music Row writers have to offer. Here, the likes of Melba Montgomery, Jim Lauderdale, Kostas, Dean Dillon, Terry McBride, Wayland Holyfield, Fred Knobloch, the late Kent M. Robbins, and Hank Cochran offer up bedrock country sentiments and melodies. For an up-to-date, guaranteed three-handkerchief weeper about divorce, check out Lonnie Williams' "4 Minus 3 Equals Zero.'' Figure the arithmetic, and then cry in your beer.
It's one of the most affecting songs of George Strait's distinguished country career. "4 Minus 3 Equals Zero," the final cut on the Texan's 24th album, Always Never the Same, is a sobering account of divorce.
The tune, laced with a weeping steel guitar and Mr. Strait's heartbreaking vocal performance, is a reminder of the elegance, simplicity and power of traditional country music. And for the last 18 years, Mr. Strait has been the genre's most consistent artist.
His artistic vision and his ability to stick with integrity-driven country songs instead of pop-flavored fluff have never faltered. Sure, he delivers an album a year like clockwork, but none of his records plays like an afterthought. Even at his weakest - 1992's uneven Holding My Own comes to mind - he's better than the majority of today's hatted crooners.
Always Never the Same is particularly strong. The title cut is a Cajun-seasoned, rockabilly rave-up. "Meanwhile," the set's first single, is a waltz-like ballad reminiscent of the '60s Nashville sound. "Peace of Mind" is a bluegrass-tinged ode to the allure of clean breezes, fertile landscapes and free spirits. "Write This Down" is a charming, countrified plea to an estranged lover.
Always Never The Same is no exception. It's a happy, light, breezy 10-song effort that enhances George's reputation as a song stylist, throws in a touch of Western swing and even a bit of Tex-Mex to boot.
Country radio has already embraced the album's first single, the tender ballad, "Meanwhile," whose dramatic key changes and shifts in tempo give lie to the idea that George is just a three-chords kind of country guy.
While George is careful in his song selection to always vary his material, some things stay the same: the straight-ahead phrasing, the warm, captivating tone. There's plenty to appeal to everyone: the heart-tugging pull of the molasses-paced ballad "That's The Truth," soaked in pedal-steel resin and begging for comparison with a George Jones tearjerker; "Peace Of Mind", an anthem of freedom that gives George's voice a chance to soar; and the peppy Tex-Mex feel of the Terry McBride co-written title track.
George is the King Of Stetson Soul (CORRECTION: RESISTOL SOUL!) when it comes to a ballad, and "I Look At You" is no exception. Another sentimental classic is the sweetly sung "That's Where I Wanna Take Our Love (And Settle Down)", which is destined to become a big wedding favorite. More importantly,
Always Never The Same seems to indulge George's sense of fun. "Write This Down" is an upbeat two-step, and the aforementioned "Always Never The Same" should be good for a spin or two around the dance floor. It's George Strait at his finest. Again.
For nearly two decades, there hasn't been a surer bet in country music than George Strait. Despite the statistics saying Garth Brooks was the biggest-grossing touring country act of 1998, take a closer look at the figures and factor in the number of dates, and it becomes evident that Strait is still the toughest ticket in town, packing them into the arenas at nearly 50,000 a clip. Not bad for a guy who's said to be one of the nicest, most unassuming guys in the business. Of course, it helps to have a track record (pun intended) of 23 previous top-selling albums, all on the same label. It's not a stretch to suggest that the pairing of Strait and MCA has been the most successful in the history of Nashville. His 24th, Always Never The Same, will likely not strike longtime fans as his best -- it's somewhere in the middle -- but fair-to-middlin' by Strait standards is still a cut above most everyone else.
Co-produced by Strait with Music City veteran Tony Brown, Always Never The Same is somewhat more on the mellow side, a little heavier on the strings than such Strait classics as 1989's Beyond The Blue Neon, or 1991's Chill Of An Early Fall, but there's still plenty of room for fiddle (Stuart Duncan) and pedal steel (Paul Franklin).
The songs, ten cuts in all, are also a little on the sweet side, but there are some welcome names among the writers featured: Melba Montgomery, Hank Cochran and Dean Dillon, to name a few. Strait does deliver a couple of heart-wrenching honky-tonkers, the standout being the album's closer, Lonnie Williams' "4 Minus 3 Equals Zero," while "One Of You," "That's The Truth" and "Meanwhile" (the first single release) are also well above-average fare.
Through it all, Strait remains the quintessential country stylist, a master of phrasing and delivery, as much an icon in his end of the business as Sinatra (with whom Strait recorded a 1994 duet) or Ella Fitzgerald were in theirs.
It's hard to last nearly 20 years in the music business by being instantly recognizable, yet never sounding like you're coasting, or rehashing the same tired formula. In that sense, the album's title is pretty close to the mark. Always Never The Same may not be the single most representative George Strait record, but it seems like it's near impossible for the guy to make a bad one.
All of George Strait's 23 albums are gold, and 21 are at least platinum. 57 of his 61 singles have reached country's Top 10. Only Mariah Carey has gotten more radio airplay over the last five years. Now Strait is ready to continue his amazing success. His 24th album opens with its first single, "Meanwhile," an achingly beautiful waltz sung by a man in a seemingly wonderful relationship who, nevertheless, can't keep thinking back to a past love. The steel guitar, fiddle, and strings combine perfectly with the tear in Strait's voice to convey the song's heartache.
Although nothing else achieves the near perfection of that song, there's not a throwaway song on the entire album either. "Write This Down" and the title track are signature Strait wordplay songs, and "What Do You Say to That" and "I Look at You" are pretty love songs. Strait's standard cast of writers, including Dean Dillon, Jim Lauderdale and Aaron Barker, help ensure the album's high quality and make it the latest in a long line of successes.
"Always Never The Same," George Strait's 24th album with MCA, is a breath-taking demonstration of his continuing powers as a stylist. He seems to be delving ever deeper into his soul as his music evolves; these songs are delivered with such impressive vocal phrasing that "Always Never The Same" is a simply stunning palate of emotional colors. From 1998