First impressions: George Strait, Cold Beer Conversation

19th straight year of buying George Strait albums on release day, and to sum it all up, he’s still got it.

I wasn’t terribly impressed with ‘It Was Love” the first couple of listens, but that song has started to grow on me. A bit too pop-county-ish for my tastes with what sounds like a drum machine, but it is still a nice little song that would fit in well on country radio —that is, if country radio was still the least bit interested in anything remotely resembling actual country music.

“Let it Go” and “Wish You Well” both channel the Jimmy Buffett-ish island very well without actually aping the sonics of such. I think I like the latter better, as I’ve never really been that big on the timpani as an instrument in country. Also, “Wish You Well” does lean more to the more polished yet still solidly traditional country that Strait music has become over the years, with the steel guitar occupying a very prominent place in the song, but “Let it Go” is still not a bad song by any means. Also, the title track is much, much better than the title might imply. Not that we should have been scared that George would “go bro,” but with what country music has become with ostensibly reliable artists selling out left and right this year, being skittish is somewhat understandable. As it turned out, it’s just two old dudes shooting the bull:

We could sit here all night trying to make it make sense. A little buzz is probably all we’re gonna get. But that’s alright…

Arguably the centerpiece of the album is “Everything I See,” written by George and Bubba with Dean Dillon and Keith Gattis, a tribute to the elder Strait’s father who died at 91 a couple of years ago. Strait really poured his heart into this performance, and you can tell. I got the idea that even in the recording of the song that made it to the album, he had a hard time getting through it. And though it is a very personal song, the most personal that the man has dared to get at least since 1988’s “Baby Blue,” it is certainly widely if not universally relatable to those of us who still miss loved ones long passed.

And all I could think when I heard “Something Going Down” was Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan, take note, this is how you do a sultry love song. Between the swelling strings and Strait singing about a fever burning him up, it’s a bona-fide knockout.

There are some really fun songs on the album too. George doing Western swing a la “It Takes All Kinds” is a treat, though I don’t think I’ll ever be at least a bit unnerved by the King singing about liking a dip in his top lip. And the theme of “Goin’, Goin’, Gone” — Friday afternoon drinking after the work day’s through — is one as old as time, but Strait sounds so damn good doing it that it really doesn’t matter, and it’s yet another solidly country song, and the bar singalong at the end really contributes to the mood. Strait’s vocals through the entire album are really second to none. He’s never been a bad singer, but he sounds exceptional here. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is, but he really nailed it.

I am still trying to figure out where this album stands in the GS catalog as far as best and all the runners-up, but it’s way up there. If you’re a longtime Strait fan like I am, you’ll love it. I love it more with every listen.

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