My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: George Strait – ‘Strait Country’

Strait CountryIt was clear right from the start that George Strait was going to be a big star, when his very first MCA single, ‘Unwound’, was a top 10 hit in 1981. It was one of no fewer than six songs on his debut album, Strait Country, to be co-written by Dean Dillon, then a young singer-songwriter with a handful of minor hits of his own on rival label RCA. He was to become the songwriter most associated with Strait’s early success. ‘Unwound’ and the second single, ‘Down And Out’, which was a little less successful, only reaching #16, were both written by the songwriting partnership of Dillon with Frank Dycus, whose contribution has probably been overlooked in comparison.

Both singles were uncompromisingly country, at a time when pop-influenced sounds were battling with more traditional ones after the success of the Urban Cowboy soundtrack. ‘Unwound’ is a hard country lament shot through with piercing fiddle, as the narrator sets in for a night’s drinking in response to his wife seeing through all the lies, complaining “that woman that I had wrapped around my finger just come unwound”. The wilder ‘Down And Out’ continues the theme, with the protagonist really settling in to his night’s drinking, as he explains:

“Well, I’m out on a tear, ’cause she’s tearin’ me apart
If I look rough on the outside you oughta see my heart.”

Dillon and Dycus also wrote the closing track, ‘Her Goodbye Hit Me In The Heart’, a less memorable but still decent song about a tough guy who finds a woman leaving hits him harder than he expected. They also teamed up with the album’s producer, Blake Mevis, to write ‘Friday Night Fever’, a good-humored tale of a husband enjoying a weekly night out while his homebody wife stays in watching Dallas on the TV.

The couple in ‘She’s Playing Hell Trying To Get Me To Heaven’, written by Dean Dillon again, this time with Charles Quillen and David Wills, are more conflicted about their differing tastes in life, as our protagonist tells us without much regret:

“Well, I promised to go to church with her about a month of Sundays ago
Well, here it is, Sunday again, and I ain’t been once in a row ….

There’s only 10 commandments but I’ve broke at least 11
She’s playing hell trying to get me to heaven.”

I’m a big fan of Dean Dillon as a songwriter, but he probably got one credit too many on this album, with the inclusion of ‘I Get Along With You’. The only remarkable thing about this pleasant but forgettable song is that it took five writers, including Dillon and Dycus, to create, and while George’s vocal is warm, the backing vocals on the track are rather dated.

There was a change of pace with the album’s third and last single, the gentler sounding ‘If You’re Thinking You Want A Stranger (There’s One Coming Home), which was written by Blake Mevis and David Wills. Here a cheating husband has seen the error of his ways once he realizes his wife might be intending to copy him. It was George’s biggest hit to date, reaching #3 on Billboard.

Although it was not a single, one of the best-remembered tracks from this album is Darrell Staedtler’s ‘Blame It On Mexico’, a mellow sounding story set to a pretty tune with delicate Spanish instrumentation. It starts out appearing to be a love song, but has a bitter twist in the tale, as the narrator, who has fallen in love with a girl he met on vacation finds himself alone “in a run-down motel room as dark as hell”. This brings a new meaning to the chorus:

“Blame it on Mexico but she’s the reason
That I fell in love again for my last time.”

Another highlight is a lesser-known cover, ‘Honky Tonk Downstairs’, which was previously recorded by the other great George, George Jones, on his Sings The Songs Of Dallas Frazier album in 1968. Here we have a shame-filled man admitting to the results of his drinking on his wife:

“It’s a shame she wears the name
Of a man who’s locked and chained
To a bottle that’s destroyin’ all her hopes and cares
She’s the barmaid in the honky tonk downstairs.”

Another great track, although it has slightly dated production, is ‘Every Time You Throw Dirt On Her (You Lose A Little Ground)’, written by Michael Garvin and Tom Shapiro. George chides an acquaintance for the way he treats his wife, and warns him that she won’t take it forever:

“She slips a little further away each time that you put her down
A lady like that can come here and get
Somebody’s who’ll know what he’s found
And every time you throw dirt on her, you lose a little ground.”

The album fulfilled the promise of its punning title, showcasing George Strait as a genuinely country singer with a very good set of songs. His vocals are a little rawer sounding on most tracks than on his more recent work, and Blake Mevis’ production is solid, with plenty of fiddle and steel, although some aspects have dated a little on some tracks, particularly the background vocals. Sales were not immediately outstanding, and the album never rose above #26 on the Billboard country albums chart, despite the singles’ good performance. However, over time George’s fans have gone back to this record, and it is now classified platinum. If you haven’t heard it, it is well worth seeking out, and thanks to the sustained success of his career, it is readily available.

Grade: A-

10 responses to “Album Review: George Strait – ‘Strait Country’

  1. Razor X September 3, 2009 at 12:12 pm

    It’s interesting to go back and listen to these early albums and note the differences in his style then vs. now. I like this album, but I think it took a few albums for him to really come into his own as an artist and a vocalist. He showed steady improvement with each album. I like his mid-to-late 80s work with Jimmy Bowen the best.

  2. Michael September 3, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Amazing that a country album from 1981 is still in print and that, although it only peaked at number 26, it eventually shipped enough copies to be certified platinum. The sound of the early 80s is a little dated but I still love the singles, particularly “If You’re Thinking You Want a Stranger”. It’s crazy to think that George Strait has been cranking out hits for my entire life, sort of like a soundtrack, if you will. It would take some thought to figure out which songs define which era of my life though. I wonder who would have predicted that he’d still be at it in 2009 and would eventually break the record for most #1s when this was released.

    • Razor X September 3, 2009 at 2:26 pm

      2009 wasn’t even on my radar back in 1981; it seemed like something so far off in the future that it would never happen.

    • Occasional Hope September 3, 2009 at 4:31 pm

      I think the availability of Strait’s back catalog is the result of him staying with the same label for his entire career. If he’d jumped ship at some point, they might not have been so keen to keep the old albums in print, and re-release the early ones on CD when that came out. And that in turn almost certainly contributed to this getting to platinum.

      • Razor X September 3, 2009 at 5:29 pm

        I was surprised to learn that some of Reba’s back catalog is only available in digital format. I expected that some of her older albums would be allowed to go out of print once she left the label, but she hasn’t been gone long enough for that to really have happened yet. I couldn’t believe that a big seller like Rumor Has It is no longer available in physical form. Who knows how these decisions are made …

  3. Michael September 3, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Yeah, I’ve been trying to get Reba’s Rumor Has It on CD for my sister for a couple of years now. And actually, two of George Strait’s albums are out of print too. 1993’s Easy Come, Easy Go and 2000’s George Strait are unavailable. It is weird.

  4. James S. September 3, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    When I finally got this album about five years ago, I was amazed at how young he sounded on it. This and Strait From The Heart have become two of my favorite GS albums to listen to, since I have a weakness for the early 80’s production style.

    Besides the singles, my other favorites here are “Her Goodbye Hit Me In The Heart,” “Blame It On Mexico,” and “Friday Night Fever.” I actually like “I Get Along With You,” too

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