Garth Brooks' pyrotechnic career may generate more unit-shifting, but George Strait's longevity and faith to his country roots has minted fifty number one singles; his stock of gold and platinum albums is second only to that of Elvis. Strait's career has been one of the most brilliant balancing acts in modern music, navigating a surprisingly rootsy line through twenty-plus years of Nashville's various fads.
Strait's new album, Honkytonkville, is filled with hit singles and fine album tracks, showing the singer has his ears wide open to some of country music's most interesting songwriters. He eases into the yearning of Bruce Robison's "Desperately" and sets the told-you-so vocal of "Look Who's Back in Town" against a rich Billy Sherrill-styled backing, complete with slip-key piano and strings.
As fine as he sings the ballads, Strait turns up-tempo with equal conviction. Jim Lauderdale's lead-off, "She Used to Say That to Me," and the title track's neon glow will be sending dancers two-stepping 'round the floor, just as "I Found Jesus on the Jailhouse Floor" and the novelty "Honk If You Honky-Tonk" are destined to become Saturday night line-dancing favorites.
Though Strait's success has never really disappeared and his energy has never really waned, it's hard not to hear this album, his 31st, as a refreshing restatement of his brand of vital, gritty, yet still radio-ready country music. As he said to a recent concert audience, "I'm not done till you say I'm done." With one of the best albums of his career, he's not kidding.
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