After 20 years of making timeless country music, earning armloads of awards, selling over 60 million albums, shattering attendance records in venues across the country and accruing more Number One singles than any other recording artist in history, it would seem there's little left for the biggest name in country music to achieve. Nonetheless, he's done it again. George Strait's new single, 'You'll Be There', is the highest charting debut of his career entering the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart at #30. MCA. 2005.
Country's most reluctant superstar can always lend gravity to even the weakest of songs, so masterful is his phrasing and restrained, expressive delivery, and so artful his picking and the production that surrounds his Everyman baritone. On Somewhere Down in Texas
, many of George Strait's songs are semiautobiographical and ring with authenticity. The title track portrays a man who's weary of the road and yearns to stay home with his family; "Texas" salutes the state that made him what he is; and "You'll Be There," the heartfelt single that talks of meeting a loved one in the afterlife, likely hits a nerve with the singer, who lost a child some years ago. Strait also does well with the terrible twins of country dance-hall fare, misery and grief--particularly on the honky-tonk weeper "Ready for the End of the World" and the killer ballad "Good News, Bad News," a duet with Lee Ann Womack
, who cowrote the tune with Dean Dillon and Dale Dodson. Womack sings rings around her fellow Texan, giving her reading of this exquisite song of heartbreak an emotional resonance that sticks in the mind long after it's over. But Strait conveys a stoic acceptance of a tragically missed chance at love, and it plays just right for a cowboy antihero. Somewhere Down in Texas
could have benefited from the addition of an irresistible rhythm tune or another example of the western swing that Strait embraced so fervently early in his career. But every time ol' George refers to his heroes by name--Haggard
, and Jones
--you know time will show him to be, if not precisely in their league, certainly a close second. --Alanna Nash Recommended George Strait