The title of George Strait’s 26th studio album for MCA suggests that it is a collection of hardcore honky-tonkers, so listeners may be a bit surprised to discover that Twang is one of the more eclectic offerings in his catalog, ranging from honky-tonk and Cajun to polished ballads and a Mexican folk song sung entirely in Spanish. With longtime co-producer Tony Brown once again on board, Strait attempts to step out of the box just a bit, with varying degrees of success. Strait seems to be walking a tightrope, making just enough concessions to fit in with radio’s demands, without sacrificing artistic integrity or alienating longtime fans.
The lead single, “Living For The Night”, which is currently rising up the charts, is noteworthy because it marks the first time iin his major-label career that Strait has had a hand in co-writing one of his singles. In fact, it marks the first time he’s recorded one of his own compositions since 1982’s “I Can’t See Texas From Here”, which appeared on his second album Strait From The Heart. The song was co-written with Srait’s son Bubba, and Dean Dillon, who has written countless George Strait hits over the past 28 years. The song is somewhat less traditional and a little more slickly produced than what we normally expect from Strait. It is not my favorite song on the album and probably would not have been my choice as the single to launch the album, but it has performed well on the charts. It is currently at #7 in Billboard and rising.
The trio of Strait, Strait and Dillon teamed up again for another song, “He’s Got That Something Special”, which I like a lot better. It’s a more typical George Strait song that has “future hit single” written all over it. The senior and junior Strait contributed another song without Dillon called “Out of Sight, Out Of Mind” which should quiet any naysayers who might claim that the Straits aren’t capable of writing songs without outside help. In fact, the highlight of the album is a song that Bubba wrote by himself, “Arkansas Dave”. With an acoustic guitar arrangement and a melody somewhat reminiscent of “Texas” (a track from Strait’s 2005 album Somewhere Down In Texas) , it tells the story of a killer and horse thief who gets some Western justice at the hands of the song’s protagonist. Even though it is the best song on the album, “Arkansas Dave” probably doesn’t have enough commercial appeal to be considered for single release.
Another strong contender for future single release is “The Breath You Take”, another polished ballad written by Dean Dillon with his daughter Jessie Jo Dillon and Casey Breathard. Delivering a “stop and smell the roses” message, this one will play well to the soccer moms.
The rest of the songwriting credits read like a who’s who in country music. Among the songwriters not named Strait or Dillon are Jim Lauderdale (the title track and “I Gotta Get To You”), Australian singer-songwriter Sherrie Austin (“Where Have I Been All My Life”), and Steve Bogard and Rick Giles (“Easy As You Go”).
Patty Loveless fans will recognize “Same Kind Of Crazy” written by Delbert McClinton and Gary Nicholson, from her 2005 Dreamin’ My Dreams album. This song makes a nice change of pace for Strait, who offers up a more blues-infused vocal instead of his usual effortless crooning style. “Hot Grease and Zydeco” attempts to do the same, with somewhat less success, as this is one of the weaker tracks on the album. The album closes with the Mexican folk song “El Rey”, which Strait sings entirely in Spanish. This is Strait’s biggest artistic stretch, a huge departure for an artist often criticized for not taking enough creative risks. While he doesn’t entirely succeed in pulling this one off, he deserves some points for making the effort.
In the end, Twang is a worthy addition to the vast Strait discography. While it probably won’t win him over any new fans, it won’t disappoint any of the old ones and will ensure that King George continues to be the dominating presence at top of the charts as he has been for nearly three decades now.
Twang can be purchased at Amazon or iTunes.