Nashville Gems (1/10/2003)
Best of George Strait (MCA Nashville 2002) - George Strait now stands as the paradigm of the Nashville sound, with his cowboy hats, pressed jeans, and starched shirts. Yet when he first broke the charts in the early 80s, Strait was a throwback to the traditional fiddle-and-steel sounds of honky tonk and western swing.
Best of George Strait features 12 tracks spanning the decade from 1983 to 1993. Strait shows himself to be a master vocal stylist, with an impeccable backing band.
Strait was born in 1952, and grew up a genuine cowboy in south Texas, learning to rope and ride on weekends on the family cattle ranch. After three years in the Army, he returned to earn an agricultural degree at Southwest Texas State University, while also developing a singing career. After three failed attempts to crack Nashville, he was signed by MCA records in February 1981.
His first single, "Unwound," was a top ten hit in the summer of 1981. Strait was 29 at the time, so you can't term him an overnight success. For an eight-year-stretch, Strait worked with producer Jimmy Boen, and since 1992 he has worked with Tony Brown.
Says Brown, "The difference between George and other artists is that they feel the pressure of having to keep the heat turned up on their career, and making a hit record every time, and they try to figure out what a hit record sounds like at a particular time. George isn't trendy, and doesn't rely on what's hot or hip."
Strait has released 28 albums, and an amazing 25 of them sold a million or more. To my surprise, there's a plethora of breakup songs - "Famous Last Words," "Baby Blue," and "Easy Come, Easy Go."
My favorite cuts are those with the twangy Texas sound, such as "Ace in the Hole" (also the name of his band) and "All My Ex's Live In Texas (That's Why I Hang My Hat in Tennessee"). Another favorite is the father/son song, "Love Without End."
I haven't paid a lot of attention to George Strait, but this package conveniences me that he is the real deal. For a look at his earlier carrier, try Best of George Strait.
P.S. Would some PLEASE shut off the annoying Shockwave file at the beginning of the MCA Nashville website?
Jewel, This Way (Atlantic) - Jewel, who launched to superstardom with her 1995 debut (which featured the single "Who Will Save Your Soul?") returns with This Way. Now age 27, the singer has a sense of grace and confidence that permeates the new album.
With sales of more than 20 million albums, it's hard to believe that Jewel is only on her fourth album. Her last album was Joy: A Holiday Collection (1999). For This Way, Jewel recorded in Nashville with ace producer Dann Huff (who has recorded with Faith Hill and She Daisy).
Jewel Kilcher has been in the spotlight since her debut album at age 20, which landed her on the cover of such national publications as Time and Rolling Stone. That kind of searing attention will make anyone self-conscious.
Yet the new album retains an intimate sound. Comments producer Huff, "I think, in this day and age, when there's so much cookie-cutter stuff going on, she's her own deal. I think she could be doing this a long, long time."
Yet Jewel admits the pressure was intense. "I wasn't sure if I was going to come back, to tell you the truth. I was so tired and burned out. I got much more attention than I thought I would and, I'm not complaining, but it just took some adjusting to."
Adds Jewel, "It was important that this record feel less premeditated. I need to have fun, be sensual, be raucous, and feel sassy. I'm a fairly mercurial person, and I'm glad I got that across on this record."
Not that This Way is full of country twang or outbursts. Yet the opening track, "Standing Still" (co-written with Rick Nowels) and "I Won't Walk Away" have a polished rock sound. Tracks like "Everybody Needs Someone Sometime" and "This Way" go back to a more acoustic sound with which Jewel is better known.
Also included is "Till We Run Out Of Road," a song co-written with her beau, seven-time world rodeo champion Ty Murray, and two bonus live tracks, "Grey Matter" and "Sometimes It Be That Way."
The performer who recorded the lovely "Hands" remains apparent on This Way. Jewel stays true to her roots, and will not disappoint her fans.
- Randy Krbechek © 2003
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