When Sammy Kershaw convened in the studio to follow up Feelin’ Good Train he stuck with his trusty production team of Buddy Cannon and Norro Wilson. In addition to his secular work, they’d teamed up for a holiday release, Christmas Time’s A-Comin’ (the title track being my favorite version of that fabulous song) in the winter of 1994, and Greatest Hits, Chapter 1 in 1995. As a result, when Politics, Religion and Her was released in May 1996, it stuck true to the formula Kershaw had honed since his debut five years earlier.
Lead single “Meant To Be,” an uptempo ode to finding love in unexpected places, was the most successful at radio peaking at #5. He followed with the novelty song “Vidalia” which reached a #10 peak that summer. Both are very good although “Vidalia,” a song I remember distinctly from watching the video on CMT as a kid, isn’t the greatest lyric in Kershaw’s catalog.
Radio didn’t respond as kindly to the album’s title track and it only managed to squeak into the top the top 30. Thanks to a killer lyric by Bryon Hill and Tony Martin plus underpinnings of mournful steel, it’s my favorite of the four singles. Deflecting pain has rarely sounded so good as it does here:
Let’s talk about baseball
Talk a little small talk
There’s gotta be a good joke
That you’ve heard
Let’s talk about NASCARs
Old Hollywood movie stars
Let’s talk about anything
Anything in this world
But politics, religion and her
“Fit to Be Tied Down,” the fourth and final single, faired similarly to the title track and although it’s an excellent ballad, it only hit #29. I much enjoy the delicate nature of Kershaw’s vocal and the simple arrangement that recalls his darker material (sonically) like “Haunted Heart” and “Queen Of My Double Wide Trailer.”
Buddy Cannon, Marla Cannon-Goodman, and Dean Dillon wrote the stunning “Same Place” a lyric concerning a guy who has visits from his ex in his dreams. Kershaw’s tender vocal brings the neo-traditional ballad to life but it’s the writing that truly shines, avoiding any temptation to make the song feel overwrought and prodding.
It’s songs like “Same Place” that make up the heart of the album, and it’s on these moments that Kershaw seems most engaged with the material. “I Saw You Today” is a wonderful story (written by Country Music Hall of Famer Bobby Braddock) about a man who keeps running into his ex, while “For Years” has a man coming to terms with a long since finalized divorce. The latter isn’t polished enough to stand out, and Kershaw’s vocal comes off exaggerated at times, but “For Years” has a wonderful lyric by Harley Allen and Stacey Earle.
Unfortunately the uptempo material isn’t up to the same standards as the ballads, and its on these moments where the album lags. “These Flowers” comes off sounding like a retread of pop material from the 1970s and “Here She Comes” is a dated honky-tonker that sounds like it was recorded – ripped from the traditional styles of the mid-90s (think John Michal Montgomery’s “Beer and Bones”) and while it’s unmistakably country, it sounds cheeky sixteen years later. Kershaw does better with “Little Bitty Crack In Her Heart” and a cover of Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee” that sound country and are at least somewhat listenable.
I do have to credit Kershaw though because Politics, Religion and Her has a consistency of quality I found surprising in the wake of him lessening his rein on traditional country with his previous release. It’s an often overlooked album which is a shame, as its one of Kershaw’s strongest. I highly recommend it.