George Strait - Troubadour Review
Posted by Mitch Michaels on 04.03.2008
Country’s king returns with another set of honky tonk and swing, this time by way of Key West…
Country music is a very interesting genre. If someone can sing, the wealth of Nashville songwriters will be able to write enough hits to keep them on the radio for years. And as long as people liked your last song, you’re money in the bank. It’s the reason so many country artists are able to stick around or even revive their career so seamlessly. Literally, all you need is your label behind you and good song choices.
Having said that, NO ONE has been able to match the longevity of George Strait. With nearly thirty years recording, there’s a reason why there has never been a “George Strait comeback album: Strait has the consistency of the rising sun. Each album and each song is a hit. And Strait doesn’t go about this formulaically. He continues to add small layers to his sound, try new things. It’s the reason he’s adored by 50-year old women and 20-year old frat boys alike.
On his 37th album, will Strait continue this amazing streak? Well, why the hell wouldn’t he?
George Strait grew up in Pearsall, Texas, spending many summers and weekends working on his family’s cattle ranch. Strait began to develop a passion for music in high school, and was eventually turned to country by greats like Hank Williams, George Jones, Merle Haggard and Texas swing legend Bob Wills. He dropped out to elope with his girlfriend Norma in 1971 and went on to join the Army. While in the service, he spent time in an Army-sponsored band, but upon his discharge in 1975, Strait decided to go to Southwest Texas State and earn a degree in agriculture.
While attending SWT, Strait formed what would become the Ace In The Hole Band. The group gained some notoriety around the San Marcos, Texas area, but didn’t grow far past a regional act. Strait finished his degree in 1979 and began work as a cattle ranch manager, continuing to play with Ace In The Hole in his free time. The group was noticed during one of their club shows by an MCA executive, who signed Strait to a solo recording contract.
George Strait released his first single, “Unwound”, in 1981. The cut reached #6 on the Country charts and was included on his debut album, Strait Country. A third single from that album, “If You’re Thinking You Want A Stranger (There’s One Coming Home)”, reached #3, but that would only be the beginning for George. His second album, Strait From The Heart, would be lead by the single “Fool Hearted Memory”, which would become Strait’s first #1 Country hit. Three other singles from that album would reach the Country Top 10, including another chart topper, “A Fire I Can’t Put Out”.
Strait’s third album, Right Or Wrong, was released in 1983 and was his biggest hit yet. The set reached #1 on the Country charts and was certified gold. All three of the album’s singles were #1 hits, providing the core of a five-consecutive-#1’s run. George Strait had hit the ground running and there was no slowing him down.
From his debut in the 80’s and into the 90’s, George Strait released 36 singles. 33 of those were Top 10 Country hits. 22 were #1’s. Of his first twelve albums, eight of them were #1 Country hits. Strait posted seven gold albums, seven platinum albums, one platinum video (George Strait Live) and one double platinum album (his first Greatest Hits).
In 1992, Strait found his popularity starting to wane a bit, perhaps thanks to the emergence of the new country blood like Garth Brooks and Travis Tritt, who were combining rock and country to a great deal of success. His 1992 album, Holdin’ My Own, was his first since his debut to fail to clock a #1 single. Sales were also a little soft, as the set stalled out at gold. Strait had a quick remedy for that problem: he became a movie star. Late that year, he starred in Pure Country, a film about an aging country star who revives his career by returning to his roots. The film produced a monster soundtrack, featuring all new songs by Strait. By 1994, Pure Country had reached triple platinum and produced a pair of #1 Country hits in “Heartland” and “I Cross My Heart”. Strait’s follow-up album, Easy Come, Easy Go, was a multi-platinum success, and its title track was another #1 hit.
From 1992 on, George Strait benefited from the large influx of new country fans, posting sales numbers greater than ever. By the end of the millennium, Strait notched up 59 Top 10 Country hits and 35 #1s. He’d also scored a platinum video, fourteen platinum albums, four double platinum albums, four triple platinum albums and two 6x platinum albums (the Pure Country soundtrack and the legendary box set Strait Out Of The Box).
George Strait kicked off the new millennium with the Latest, Greatest, Straitest Hits compilation, which featured a new track, “The Best Day”, which reached the top of the country charts. Since then, Strait has released five studio albums. All of them were #1 Country hits. Four have been certified platinum, including 2006’s It Just Comes Natural. He’s notched another six #1 Country singles on the Billboard charts too. In 2004, MCA celebrated Strait’s 50 #1 hits (across all charts) with the release of 50 Number Ones. The album went #1 and produced yet another #1 single in “I Hate Everything”. The album has since certified 7x platinum, making it George’s second-best career selling album (behind his box set). Demand was so great that, in 2007, MCA released 22 More Hits.
Throughout this phenomenal, longterm success, George Strait has remained deeply seeded in his Texan lifestyle. He’s refused to move to Nashville, staying at home with his wife on his ranch instead. He continues to tour with the Ace In The Hole Band, who are nearing their thirtieth anniversary together. And he plans his touring schedule around his two other passions: family and rodeos.
In February, George Strait released a new single, “I Saw God Today”. The track debuted at #19 on the Country charts, his highest debut ever.
On April 1, 2008, MCA Nashville Records released Troubadour, the 25th regular studio album by George Strait and the follow-up to 2006’s It Just Comes Natural.
The Band: 8.5
George Strait: vocals, producer
Over the past several years, George Strait seems to be making a concerted effort to sing really well on his albums. Not that he wasn’t singing well throughout the 80’s and 90’s, but the guy has just been nailing it, like the country Sinatra. That continues on Troubadour, as his vocals are just as smooth and easy to listen to as they’ve ever been. His age has crept in, but only a little, and it serves to give a great authority to his delivery. He may seem a little unbelievable when talking about his newborn baby like on “I Saw God Today”, but it’s the exact kind of clout needed to deliver a fire and brimstone on those looking to bank on Johnny Cash’s memory on “House Of Cash”.
Of course, it’s not all ballads. And this is where Strait’s excellent studio band steps in. Troubadour was recorded at Jimmy Buffett’s Shrimp Boat Studio in Key West (a converted former shrimp locker), a place that Strait fell in love with when recording a duet with Buffett himself. The tropical atmosphere and tight space brings an air of fun to this album, which comes through on the more swinging numbers, as well as the island experimentation of “River Of Love”.
Strait also opens up to a couple of duets here. Patty Loveless sounds amazing as usual, and longtime Strait songwriter Dean Dillon holds up his end of the swing track “West Texas Town”. Vince Gill even pops up to provide background vocals on the title track. Fans of George Strait won’t be surprised by how great this album sounds (the guy is nothing but consistent), but if you think George is all big singles and no meat, you may be surprised at how many GREAT tracks there on this album. Which brings us to…
The Songs: 8.0
2. It Was Me
3. Brothers Of The Highway
4. River Of Love
5. House Of Cash (Duet with Patty Loveless)
6. I Saw God Today
7. Give Me More Time
8. When You’re In Love
9. Make Her Fall In Love With Me Song
10. West Texas Town (Duet with Dean Dillon)
11. House With No Doors
12. If Heartaches Were Horses
Troubadour kicks off with the semi-biographical title track, which will give any longterm country fans chills with its simple, blue collar chorus of “I was a young troubadour when I rode in on a song/I’ll be an old troubadour when I’m gone”. This slowly strummed track is a rare glimpse into Strait’s soul and a celebration of his years on the circuit as a career singer. It’s worth the admission alone and you’ll be hard-pressed to get past track one here.
Of course, Troubadour is far from a one song affair. The lead single “I Saw God Today” is touching without being sappy. Then you have the Loveless duet “House Of Cash”, which tells the story of Johnny and June Carter Cash’s house burning down. Another great line: “If those ashes in that pool could talk/To those anchormen out on the walk/I bet they’d be happy to announce/There won’t be no yard sale now”.
And the album just continues amazing you. “Brothers Of The Highway” is a great tribute to the American trucker, while “House With No Doors” is the kind of country wisdom that Strait excels at. There’s really not a bad track here.
The 411: After 25 albums, George Strait continues to swing for the fences. The man has never languished in “vanity projects” or “direction changes”. And he’s never needed a “comeback album”. From the amazing title track to the touching first single, “I Saw God Today”, to the badass Cash tribute to the whimsical island vibe of “River Of Love”, this is just another George Strait highlight in a sea of them. It’s so accessible that it begs for new fans to learn what thirty years of fans have already learned: George Strait is the real deal.