George Strait: Classic Christmas

George Strait has one of the purest, most recognizable voices in a genre not known for that type of clarity, and he’s one of those singers who likely doesn’t need much help (read: pitch correction) in the studio. If you’re a fan of Strait or of country music in general, you’re going to love this guy’s straight-ahead, twangy approach to classic Christmas fare, aptly titled Classic Christmas. For the rest of you, you may be left with the feeling that these takes are a bit vanilla and even a tad mundane. As holiday albums go, though, you sure could do a lot worse. After all, Mr. Strait is a living legend at this point, and his voice alone is reason to pick this one up. Standout tracks are “We Three Kings” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” (MCA Nashville)

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Jimmy Wayne: Do You Believe Me Now?

Every once in a while, some country artist and/or songwriter takes a chance on a song that doesn’t sound like everything else they release. Jimmy Wayne’s “Do You Believe Me Now?” the title track to his latest, and second album, is that song – essentially a great pop song sung with a twangy vocal and a lyrical theme that is left of center (guy sees the way other guy is looking at his girl, and fast-forwards to when he is the odd man out and the other guy has his girl now). Well, that, and the track is as catchy as anything you’ll ever hear. Read his bio, and you won’t help but feel for the guy, who once saw his stepfather shoot (and paralyze) his stepbrother’s wife and then attempt to kill Jimmy too when he was 15. But mostly this is a new country artist (who co-writes most of his material) armed with a solid album of hooky songs that reflect the variety of music his foster parents listened to – Hall & Oates, Alan Jackson, Iron Maiden among them. Other standouts are the breezy “I Will” and sultry semi-ballad “One on One.” With the title track recently hitting #1 on the country charts, the sky is the limit for Jimmy Wayne, and gives hope to some of the lesser-known but promising songwriting talent on Music Row. (Valory Music Co.)

Jimmy Wayne MySpace Page

  

Billy Currington: Little Bit of Everything

The premise of Billy Currington’s latest, Little Bit of Everything, is supposed to symbolize the singer and songwriter’s many musical influences, which include hints of R&B and classic rock. Well, okay, but at the end of the day this is a country record through and through. Currington is a very good songwriter, and one of those rare Nashville acts who began as a writer and rode that talent to a record deal. But as a singer, he’s pretty average and sounds like every Tom, Dick, Chesney and Paisley. But let’s face it – the people buying country music records don’t care about the vocals delivering them. They only care about the songs, and Currington has some good ones. The standouts here are the opening warm weather anthem “Swimmin’ in Sunshine,” the absolutely stunning ballad “Walk On,” and the Jimmy Buffet-flavored “I Shall Return.” And while some of these tracks border on mediocre, Currington is for the most part better than his peers. Maybe that’s because his Georgia roots make it all seem so natural, or maybe it’s because he’s just that talented. (Mercury)

Billy Currington MySpace Page

  

Lee Ann Womack: Call Me Crazy

Lee Ann Womack has been around for a while on the country radio scene, and while we can poke holes in the genre all day long, we can’t poke anything at someone who has a really good voice and who picks good songs to record. A lot of the music coming out of Music Row these days is absolute schlock, but Womack and her team have done a nice job of finding good material that suits her as an artist on her latest album, Call Me Crazy. In fact, if you take the twang out of Womack’s voice, a lot of the songs more closely resemble timeless country/pop along the lines of Crystal Gayle or Linda Ronstadt, especially on the likes of “Either Way” or “I Found It in You.” But she also has a Dolly Parton-ish throwback thing going on, particularly on lead single “Last Call,” “Solitary Thinkin’” or “The Bees.” Producer Tony Brown adds some nice touches and some of George Strait’s band on Call Me Crazy, and while there are no magical tracks such as Lee Ann’s smash “I Hope You Dance,” this is a more complete collection of good country music. (MCA)

Lee Ann Womack MySpace Page

  

Now That’s What I Call Country

Aside from the pop/punk genre, there really isn’t a more tired style of music than “new country,” a.k.a. the kind of country music that is coming out of Nashville’s Music Row these days, which is more like classic pop with steel guitars, and lyrics that try to make you remember your youth or complain about your lot in life today. This is opposed to the country music of your parents and grandparents, which wasn’t nearly as forced or made to fit into a pattern musically or lyrically. So anyone with a musical brain is likely going to be insulted if someone tries to convince them to like this stuff. Enter Now That’s What I Call Country, a compilation of some of the biggest chart-toppers of the past year or so. For fans of new country, it’s not really any different than what’s been beaten to death on your favorite radio station. For the rest of us, it’s mostly the same bland fare that gives us headaches—the nasally Carrie Underwood (“All-American Girl”), Lady Antebellum’s “Love Don’t Live Here;” a song with the same chord progression and melody as about 300 other songs you’ve heard in this genre alone. Ditto for Brad Paisley’s “Letter To Me” and Kenny Chesney’s “Don’t Blink” — seriously, in any other genre those two guys would be bagging groceries. We’d be remiss, of course, if we didn’t point out some of the bright spots here, such as Keith Urban, who actually makes his songs compelling on “Everybody” (maybe it’s because he can actually sing); and George Strait’s “I Saw God Today,” a stunning number about the beauty of becoming a father that any parent can relate to. At some point, someone is going to step in and shake this genre up, but not until advertisers stop ruling terrestrial radio. (LABEL: UMG Recordings)

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