Despite its title, #7 was George Strait’s sixth studio album for MCA and his third collaboration with co-producer Jimmy Bowen. It was his seventh album overall, if 1985′s Greatest Hits compilation is taken into account. Released in May 1986, it continues where the previous year’s Something Special left off, allowing Strait to further examine his Texas music roots. The album relies heavily on Western swing and Texas shuffles, along with a few more contemporary numbers intended to be released to radio as singles.
It has never been a secret that George Strait is a huge Bob Wills fan. The album opens with his rendition of the Wills classic “Deep Water”. Like most Bob Wills tunes, it was intended to be a dance song, and as such, the lyrics are of secondary importance and are somewhat superficial. What it lacks in lyrical depth, however, it makes up for with an incredibly satisfying melody and Strait’s vocal performance is flawless, as is the fiddle playing of Johnny Gimble. Considered one of the greatest fiddle players in the history of country music, and an alumnus of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys, Gimble plays both the fiddle and mandolin throughout the album.
#7 generated two more #1 singles for Strait — “Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her” and “It Ain’t Cool To Be Crazy About You”. Both were from the pen of Dean Dillon, with Royce Porter sharing co-writer duties on the latter. They have gone on to become classics and both are on my short list of favorite George Strait hits. It was about this time that he developed his trademark, seemingly effortless crooning style, and truly began to blossom as an artist.
The truck-driving tune “Rhythm of the Road” allows for a brief change of pace before the album reverts back to a more laid-back style with the Western swing number “You Still Get to Me” and two Texas shuffle numbers — “Stranger Things Have Happened” and “Why’d You Go and Break My Heart”. “I’m Never Gonna Let You Go” is a more contemporary tune that probably would have done well as a single. It’s interesting that MCA chose to overlook it, releasing only the two aforementioned Dillon compositions to radio. Strait pays further homage to his Texas roots with the closing song, a remake of Tex Ritter’s “Cow Town”.
The one flaw of this album is that at 27 minutes and six seconds in length, it is too short. This is a forgivable shortcoming, however, because the quality of the songs more than compensates for the brevity of the collection. This is one of those rare albums that contains no filler, and for the most part doesn’t appear to have been recorded with the intention of racking up a lot of radio hits. This seems to be an album that Strait recorded to have fun, with a couple of radio-ready tracks thrown in almost as an afterthought.
#7 became Strait’s fifth album to attain gold status, eventually earning platinum certification. However, Strait’s continued commercial success in what should have been a banner year for him, was overshadowed by the tragic death of his 13-year-old daughter Jenifer in a car accident about a month after the album was released. The always private Strait never spoke publicly of the tragedy, except to dedicate his 1986 CMA Male Vocalist of the Year trophy to Jenifer’s memory.
An overlooked gem in the vast Strait catalog, #7 is readily available in both CD and digital formats from Amazon . It is well worth seeking out.