George Strait’s 1997 album Carrying Your Love With Me came out when he was at the peak of his commercial success. It followed up the triple platinum Blue Clear Sky, released the previous year, and achieved the same status itself (the last of his studio albums to do so to date). It was also the first of his albums to reach the top of the Billboard album charts across all genres.
The last single from Blue Clear Sky, the excellent traditional-sounding ‘King Of The Mountain’, had been a flop by George’s standards, barely squeezing into the top 20, making it only his third single ever not to make the top 10. The label may have been concerned that this was a sign that George’s run at the top was coming to an end, and they made sure that the first two singles from the new album were more radio-friendly. The first, the relaxed and melodic ‘One Night At A Time’, filled the bill well enough to not only go to #1 on the country charts, but to gain some pop airplay as well. Written by Roger Cook, Eddie Kilgallon and Earl Bud Lee, the song seems designed for George’s crooning style, and it’s easy to overlook the fact that the lyric is actually a cheating song, and not one burdened with guilt. It was followed to the top of the chart by the title track, a laid-back love song set to a charming tune written by Jeff Stevens and Steve Bogard. Neither song stands today among Strait’s all-time classics, but George sounds great. In much the same musical style, but rather dull, is Jackson Leap’s ‘She’ll Leave You With A Smile’, a warning to a friend about a heartless woman, which is one of three tracks embellished with a subtle string arrangement.
The third single was a cover of Vern Gosdin’s classic ‘Today My World Slipped Away’, one of the orchestrated numbers, which reached #3 (seven slots higher than the original managed back in 1982). It is a wonderful song, imbued with intense sadness at the end of a marriage, and George gives it a perfectly restrained reading which is almost as good as the original. That he falls just a little short is no criticism of George Strait, but a tribute to the greatness of Gosdin. The third track with strings is Bobby Braddock’s ‘The Nerve’, which I was surprised wasn’t releasd as a single. The story is a little unfocused as it has brief snapshots of the narrator’s love story, that of his parents, and finally a look back several generations to the ancestor who first came to America and fell in love with an Indian girl, with not quite enough of any one of those stories, but it has a sweet feel, a pretty tune and a tender vocal, which should all have worked well on radio.
The final single, the mid-tempo ‘Round About Way’, took George back to the top of the charts. Written by Steve Dean and Wil Nance, uses the title with an ironic play on words as the protagonist pretends to his friends he’s over his ex:
“I still miss her in a round about way
Around about the time that midnight rolls around
That’s around about the time my tears start fallin’ down”
My favorite track is the solid honky tonk of ‘Won’t You Come Home (And Talk To A Stranger)’, written by Wayne Kemp and originally recorded as a duet by Ernest Tubb and Loretta Lynn in the late 60s. It is a welcome reminder of George at his best, and also reminiscent of his early hit ‘If You’re Thinking You Want A Stranger (There’s One Coming Home)’, as the protagonist’s wife calls him up in the bar (and then calls in herself), to ask him:
“Won’t you come home and talk to a stranger?
You might even make yourself a friend
She said, Won’t you come home and talk to a stranger?
It’s the only place in days you haven’t been”
The pace is lifted with a couple of up-tempo numbers. The protagonist of Harlan Howard and Jackson Leap’s ‘I’ve Got A Funny Feeling’ suspects his wife of cheating, but Strait sounds too cheerful to convince. The genuinely light-hearted ‘That’s Me (Every Chance I Get), written by Mark D. Sanders and Ed Hill, is slight but fun.
The album closes, however, with another highlight, in the form of the Dean Dillon/Gary Nicholson ballad ‘A Real Good Place To Start’. George sensitively delivers a fine song about a broken hearted man (“still reelin’ from a relationship that left me torn in two”), seeking new love in the arms of a woman in the same situation:
“Sometimes a new beginning
Is found in an old friend
If I’m ever gonna mend this broken heart
You look like a real good place to start”
This is not one of my favorite Strait albums, but it is a good example of his work in the late 90s. There is little to actively criticise: the vocals are fine, the songs all pretty good, the production tasteful. It lacks a little in the way of excitement, and in some ways he seems to have been playing safe. It obviously worked; not only did sales hold up well, but George was named the CMA Male Vocalist of the Year in both 1997 and 1998, and the ACM Male Vocalist of the Year in 1997. Carrying Your Love With Me won Album of the Year accolades from both organizations. That summer George began headlining the George Strait Country Music Festival tour featuring other superstars.
Like all of George Strait’s albums, Carrying Your Love With me is available at any major retailer and can be played in its entirety at Last FM.