In 2005, twenty-four years into his hit-making career, George Strait released Somewhere Down In Texas, a collection of laid-back songs that contrasted 2003’s Honkytonkville‘s hard honky-tonk sound. The album landed at the top of the country albums chart as well as the all-genre Billboard 200 and was certified platinum. It also provided Strait with another chart-topper on the country singles chart, a feat its predecessor didn’t accomplish, when ‘She Let Herself Go’ became his 40th Billboard #1, tying a record previously held by Conway Twitty, which George has since broken. Two other singles also hit the top 20.
First to radio from this mostly sedate collection was the inspirational ‘You’ll Be There’, written by Cory Mayo. The tune was a bit of a departure for George with its chorus echoing the melodies of a pop power ballad. It also employs a bevy of background vocalists in the chorus and the general instrumentation is a definite change of direction for the singer. Still, the tune hit the top 5 on the country singles chart, resting at an eventual #4 peak.
‘She Let Herself Go’ was the album’s second single, and this tale of a scorned woman turned globetrotter hit the top spot on the country singles chart. The song tells the story of a woman whose husband has left her and uses the title as a hook for all the places she took herself; all the places her husband never wanted to go. It’s the sort of strong, modern woman theme that plays perfectly with country radio.
The best track from the set is easily Strait’s cover of Merle Haggard’s ‘The Seashores of Old Mexico’, written by The Hag. Strait and co-producer Tony Brown employ a calypso sound to frame the verses, while Strait delivers a cool vocal, befitting the delightful storyline. Radio didn’t warm to this one as much, which is a shame, and it stalled outside the top 10 at #11 on the charts.
And there are other memorable moments here too. Steven Dale Jones and Phillip White wrote the witty ‘Texas’, which espouses the virtues and the originality of the Longhorn State. One of my favorite things about this song is how the writers have managed to include a shout-out to everything we outsiders associate with Texas, from the Alamo to Willie Nelson, and of course the music, with nods to Austin City Limits and Strait’s own classic hit ‘Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind’. I hesitate to call this a list song, but that’s exactly what it is; it just happens to be a quality list song and there’s at least a reason and even a pay-off at the end, for stringing together so many Texas references into one song. It also became another top 40 hit, charting at #35 from unsolicited airplay.
Another highlight on the album is George’s first real duet with anyone. Back in the 1980s, when George Strait and Reba McEntire were both recording for MCA, the two (and their label) talked about the possibility of recording a duet together. At the time, Reba’s music was much closer to the traditional and western swing Strait was releasing too. Nothing ever came of the idea to pair Strait and McEntire, and she’s since moved away from the traditional country she recorded in the 80s for a more modern pop-country sound. It’s common in Nashville for two stars to come together for a vocal collaboration, but George had never gotten around to it.
But for this release, George chose a song that was penned by perennial favorite Dean Dillon with Lee Ann Womack and Dale Dodson, ‘Good News, Bad News’ and asked Lee Ann to sing it with him. This would be the first time George recorded a full-fledged duet with anyone, and would prove to be a great move. It’s a really clever song that finds the man realizing he is ready to get back together, coming to his lover and saying he’s ‘got some good news‘. The female counters it with ‘I’ve got some bad news, I don’t know how to break to you/I found someone new since we’ve been apart‘. The arrangement is sparse and allows the vocals from both artists to shine, which they do. Even though the song was never released to radio, it quickly became a fan-favorite and won the CMA Musical Event of the Year trophy in 2005.
Even though this is one of Strait’s more serene sets of songs, his signature swing style is in full tilt on tracks like ‘High Tone Woman’, which finds the narrator offering up advice and warning about the money-hungry ladies. But the heart of this album, and its strength, lies in the waltzes. And they’re aplenty here, ‘Ready For The End of the World’ and ‘Oh, What A Perfect Day’ are appropriate additions to the album, and Strait’s delivery of them is near flawless. But after so many times in the recording studio – this was his 23rd if you’re keeping count – Strait had his crooning style down to an artform by 2005.
For whatever reason, George Strait toned down the swing and the hard honky-tonk sound and gave us a collection of slow-moving, smart, and memorable songs; the kind of songs that have been hallmarks of Strait’s career for nearly 30 years now. For fans of smooth, traditional country music, and fans of quality music in general, Somewhere Down In Texas comes highly recommended.
This album is still widely available and can be listened to entirely at Last FM.