In 1993, country music was a hot commodity. And so was Mark Chesnutt. His first 2 major label albums had gone platinum, and his first 9 single releases to country radio had all cracked the top 10. As an artist on Music Row’s most powerful label in the early 90s – MCA was also home to George Strait, Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, Trisha Yearwood, Wynonna, etc. – Mark was getting tons of media exposure and was making a name for himself as a respectable country crooner, with a penchant for the traditional.
It’s safe to say that when Almost Goodbye was released 17 years ago this month, Mark Chesnutt was about as high as his commercial star ever rose. It holds the distinction as Chesnutt’s most successful album, peaking at #6 on the Country Albums chart, mostly propelled by the 3 consecutive number-one singles. The album’s fourth single, a cover of Don Gibson’s 1972 chart-topper, stalled at #21 and ended Chesnutt’s run of a dozen straight top 10 single releases.
Opening the set is Dennis Linde’s ‘It Sure Is Monday’, an up-tempo blue-collar anthem that finds the narrator recovering ‘from another wild weekend’. A recurrent favorite on radio still today, it’s one of the least dated productions on the album, even if the lyrics get a bit mundane around the second or third listen.
The album’s second single is a great country power ballad, with a hint of Nashville Sound strings added to the mix. This is a song that could have easily been overwrought by a loud or overbearing vocal, but Chesnutt delivers the lyric with a cool bravado that is never lost in the music or the background singers, owning the lyric with his Texas tenor.
‘I Just Wanted You To Know’ is akin to the sound Clint Black brought to country music with its meaty melody and honky-tonk feel. In this, a man is remembering his days with an old flame, telling how he re-lives the memories literally driving down memory lane. It was the album’s third single, and third consecutive chart-topper.
Don Gibson took the song ‘Woman (Sensuous Woman)’ – written by the incomparable Gary “Flip” Paxton – all the way to #1 in 1972. But in 1994, Mark Chesnutt’s fiddle-laced version stalled at #21 on the Country Singles chart, and is virtually forgotten today. I had even forgotten about it until I began this review. I won’t take anything away from Gibson’s original, but I much prefer Chesnutt’s vocal and the surrounding instrumentation, mostly sans the overly loud backing vocalists on the Gibson recording.
Looking back on lost love seems to be a recurring theme on most of the album’s non-singles. ‘April’s Fool’ is a pop-country nugget that tells of a man pining for a woman he once had, while ‘My Heart’s Too Broke (To Pay Attention)’ visits a similar theme, this time in a swinging novelty song format. Also in the western swing tradition is ‘Texas Is Bigger Than It Used To Be’. The song that sings the praises of the abundance of barrooms in the Lonestar State also appeared on the 8 Seconds Soundtrack the next year.
The album closes with two of its strongest songs, however. ’Til A Better Memory Comes Along’ has also been recorded by Gene Watson and Shelby Lynne, among others. Chesnutt infuses the song with a bit of hard-core honky tonk heartbreak, and it makes for an excellent track. Finally, ‘The Will’, written by Jackson Leap, is a sweet and touching tale of a family gathered in a lawyer’s office to hear their departed father’s last will and testament. The only mention of anything monetary is when he says to sell the house and split up the money. In this partly spoken narrative, the departed asks his daughters to remember the lullabies he sang and pass them down to their own children, for his sons to honor the respected family name, and for his wife to simply remember he loves her. It’s a well-crafted song, if somewhat on the sentimental side, and a fitting bookend to a solid country album.
While Almost Goodbye is the most commercially successful of Mark Chesnutt’s albums, and also his last for MCA before he was switched to their newly re-born Decca imprint in 1994, it’s a bit hit and miss at times with the material. During those soft spots in the song choices, Chesnutt delivers and holds up his end of the songs with pure vocal talent. And when the material does match his own talent, the result is magnificent. And that’s the case more often than not with this album.
Almost Goodbye is still in print and widely available, including at amazon.