Joe’s second album, Revelation, was not quite as successful as its predecessor, but it has some great songs on it. Produced once more with taste and subtlety by guitarist Brent Rowan, the songs are mainly understated and a little downbeat, and those who like a lot of changes of pace may find this record disappointing. Personally, I think it rewards the time spent listening, and it is one of my favourite Joe Nichols albums.
The lead single, the earnest Harley Allen song ‘If Nobody Believed In You’, made the top 10. It ventures into both socio-political and religious territory as he moves from criticizing over-critical fathers stifling a child’s efforts and an adult son belittling his elderly father to raising the question of prayer in schools. Although it is a heavy handed lyrically, it is beautifully if a little languidly sung.
‘Things Like That (These Days)’, written by Byron Hill and Mike Dekle, tackles similar subject matter to rather gloomy effect. It tells of a boy with supportive parents who bring him up properly, and grow up to coach a children’s sport team, but the melody, while pretty, has a mournful feel, as Joe broods about those from less fortunate backgrounds:
Have mercy on all the kids (parents) out there
Who haven’t been raised to even care
About things like that these days
Iris DeMent’s ‘No Time To Cry’, which also refers to the problems of modern society (murdered babies and bombs exploding), is outright depressing. The protagonist confesses wearily the sorrow brought to his life by bereavement, tears which he cannot afford to shed. It is beautifully sung and written, but undoubtedly ends the album on a downer.
In contrast, the second and last single was the cheery (and very short – not much more than two minutes) ‘What’s A Guy Gotta Do’, co-written by Joe himself with Kelley Lovelace and Don Sampson, which peaked at #4 early in 2005. The dateless protagonist wonders why he’s not getting any interest, when
Ask anybody, I’m a pretty good guy
And the looks-decent wagon didn’t pass me by
It may be fluff, but it has a self-deprecating charm which makes it endearing, and more importantly it is one of two bright up-tempo fun songs which lighten the mood , foreshadowing the way for Joe’s next big hit, ‘Tequila Makes her Clothes Fall Off’. The other is ‘Don’t Ruin It For The Rest Of Us’, recorded the same year a little more rowdily by June’s Spotlight Artist Mark Chesnutt.
The humble ‘Singer In A Band’ is written by Gary Harrison and Tim Mensy, as the protagonist gently chides his fans for idolizing him, comparing his life to the everyday struggles of others:
You see me up there on center stage
In the spotlight for a while
But in the things that really matter
I’m just sittin’ on the aisle
When you look for heroes know that I’m just a singer in a band
It verges on sentimentality, but the palpable sincerity, almost sadness, of the delivery makes it work.
Heroes and influences are an unstated theme through the album. Many country artists name check legends of the past, but I have noticed that those who refer to Keith Whitley in song seem to be those with the deepest roots in country music. ‘I Wish That Wasn’t All’ is a wistful ballad written by Chris Dubois and Ashley Gorley which pays tribute to Whitley’s tragically curtailed life and career, and goes on to refer similarly to various lost opportunities in the protagonist’s own life.
A faithful cover of Gene Watson’s signature hit ‘Farewell Party’ (written by Lawton Williams) with prominent steel guitar is delivered sensitively if a little subdued compared to the original. I felt Joe was more successful tackling Gene’s less iconic ‘Should I Come Home (Or Should I Go Crazy)’ on his next album, the unimaginatively titled III. The title track is a downbeat Bobby Braddock song previously recorded by Waylon Jennings, and it offers a terrifying vision of the Second Coming, which turns out to just be a dream:
All at once the clouds rolled back and there stood Jesus Christ in all His glory
And I realized the saddest eyes I’d ever seen were lookin’ straight at me
I guess I was awakened by the penetrating sound of my own screaming
And it didn’t take me long to stumble out of bed and fall down on my knees
As tears rolled down my face I cried “Dear God, I’m thankful I was only dreamin’
And if I never go to Hell, Lord, it’ll be because you scared it out of me”
The understated phrasing of Joe’s vocal allied to the chilling intensity of the lyric gives this track the biggest impact, and apart from the Vietnam reference, it feels surprisingly current.
The opening track ‘The Shade’ is a gently loping paean to the quiet country life written by Troy Jones and Shane Decker which has an insidious charm. The midpaced ‘If I Ever Get Her Back’ is a low-key promise to treat his ex better if she only return. Joe’s vocal is so mournful sounding that he doesn’t seem to have any hope of needing to fulfil the promise, and this one really could do with a bit more oomph and passion.
Although it lacked the big hits of his debut, this is a lovely record, but its downbeat and sometimes depressing nature meant it was not as big a seller as his debut. Perhaps in reflection of this, Joe turned to more lightweight material on III, and was rewarded by the monster hit ‘Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off’. Joe’s subsequent material has been inconsistent, but he has always sounded good even on bland or fluffy songs. His recent return to the top of the charts is an encouraging sign.
This album is easy to find cheaply, either digitally or in CD format.