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Album review: George Strait's 'Twang'

August 10, 2009 |  5:33 pm

Strait When the Academy of Country Music recently crowned George Strait "artist of the decade" of the '00s, they commissioned a song for the occasion, sung to Strait and his family by Lee Ann Womack, called "Just Stand There and Sing."

Strait is lionized for his uncomplicated approach to country music, as well as his skill at identifying and recording hit songs mostly written by others. But on this outing, there's evidence of another facet of his talent that doesn't often get the spotlight: his craftiness.

"Twang" serves as a pretty nifty summation of what commercial country is, circa 2009. Strait's albums have sometimes suffered from stylistic predictability, and this one, like his others, doesn't dive very deep into emotional territory, but it's still a standout in a long, hit-filled repertory.

The snappy title track, written by Jim Lauderdale, Kendell  Marvel and Jimmy Ritchey, opens the album with a self-reflective celebration of the classic sounds that spill out of a honky-tonk jukebox every Saturday night.

From there, Strait and his team touch all the bases on the geographical and musical map of the south: Nashville stop-and-smell-the-roses balladry ("Where Have I Been All My Life"), Gulf-flavored romanticism ("I Gotta Get to You"), Memphis country soul ("Same Kind of Crazy"), Louisiana pepper ("Hot Grease and Zydeco") and a traditional rural folk narrative ("Arkansas Dave"). In perhaps the biggest surprise Strait's delivered in years, he turns in a fully authentic and openly emotional reading, en español perfecto, of the border mariachi classic "El Rey." Otre vez!

Even more significant is the appearance at this late date of George Strait, songwriter. Almost exclusively an interpreter of others' compositions for the last three decades, the Texan, at 57, has written three of these 13 numbers, with help from his son, Bubba, who also snags a solo songwriting credit on "Arkansas Dave," a tale of moral comeuppance that Johnny Cash might have appreciated.

Strait's own songs -- "Living for the Night," "Out of Sight Outta Mind" and "He's Got That Something Special" -- focus on guys who don't realize the good thing they had until it was too late.

It would seem that Strait is crafty enough not to miss that message as it applies to the music lurking within him.

-- Randy Lewis

George Strait
MCA Nashville
Three stars