After an unsuccessful attempt at another comeback in 2007 with the John Rich-produced Easy Money, John Anderson’s latest album Bigger Hands was released last month on the small label Country Crossing. It reunites him with co-producer James Stroud, who produced his early 90s records, and the result is mostly fairly understated, and is generally more sympathetic to John’s voice and style than Easy Money. John is in great voice, and wrote all the material with a variety of co-writers.
The most immediately familiar song here is John’s version of ‘Shuttin’ Detroit Down’, which he co-wrote with John Rich, who of course had a hit single with the song earlier this year. I always liked the song itself, and thought it a laudable response to current economic issues, but I was distinctly underwhelmed by Rich’s disconnected vocal. John Anderson always commits 100% to his material, and has a history of recording this type of subject matter, going all the way back to ‘Havin’ Hard Times’ on his debut album almost 30 years ago. It should come as no surprise that I vastly prefer his take on the song to that of his co-writer; John Anderson’s stronger voice and more intense approach give the lyric a massive added punch. I really believe him when he sings here about being “fightin’ mad” about the situation. It seems a shame that John Rich’s release of the song as a single has prevented Anderson from doing so.
Instead, the label is pushing the more frivolous ‘Cold Coffee And Hot Beer’, written with longtime collaborator Lionel A Delmore. Since Warner Brothers couldn’t get John back on the radio a couple of years ago, his new indie label may not have much hope, no matter how good the material, which is, in the words of this song, “a cryin’ shame, like cold coffee and hot beer”. It is a highly entertaining song whose narrator is fabulously hopeless at all aspects of life as he laments the loss of his wife; not only can he not make coffee or put his beer in the refrigerator, he can’t manage washing up the cups, and it seems that she brought in the paycheck too. No wonder she left.
The familiar theme of honky tonking is represented by the cheerful, if rather generic, ode to ‘Bar Room Country’, as John paints the picture of a “jumpin’ honky tonk on the county line“, the sort of place where “every night’s like Saturday night“. Much better (and a track which would have been a big hit if recorded at John’s commercial peak) is the witty chugging opening track, ‘How Can I Be So Thirsty’, written with fellow-veteran Billy Joe Walker and the younger songwriter/artist Jerrod Niemann. Here John utters a ironic complaint about a well-deserved hangover – “How can I be so thirsty, after all I drank last night?” he asks plaintively, after listing all the reasons why.
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