After nearly three decades of recording, more number-one singles than any other artist in history, a Country Music Hall of Fame induction, and creating the template for the perfect country music career, one could almost expect George Strait to phone in his albums and take it easy. After all, he probably could record a list of Texas cattle futures and earn another Album Of The Year nomination; he's just that good. However, Strait's 41st album, Twang, finds the most recent Artist of The Decade venturing into new territory. He takes risks, and he clearly has no intention of taking his last curtain call anytime soon.
For starters, Strait takes on the role of songwriter - something that hasn't happened since his second album, Strait From The Heart, in 1982 (the song was "I Can't See Texas From Here"). He collaborates with son Bubba and longtime Strait tunesmith Dean Dillon ("The Chair," and "Marina Del Rey," among dozens more). The result? Strait contributes to three songs that stand shoulder to shoulder with anything he's recorded before - most notably, the smooth and heartbreaking "Living For The Night," the album's first single. "He's Got That Something Special" is a country toe-tapper, defying the listener not to sing along. Father and son craft a classic barroom tearjerker, "Out Of Sight Out Of Mind," which is pure Strait, through and through. Bubba Strait also adds "Arkansas Dave," a murderous story song, reminiscent of material Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash would have recorded in the `70's.
Elsewhere, Dean Dillon, Jessie Jo Dillon and Casey Beathard's "The Breath You Take" provides the album's emotional cornerstone. Strait works his magic, taking a clichéd line like " Life's not the breath you take/But the moments that take your breath away" and skillfully makes it resonate. The song is one of the most beautiful to ever appear on a George Strait album, and it deserves to be a future single. The sure-fire second single is the roof-raising title track. Other fun moments include "Some Kind of Crazy" and "Hot Grease and Zydeco," which is sure to become a staple in Strait's live shows.
The album's biggest surprise is saved for last: "El Rey" is a Mexican folk song that he sings - quite convincingly - completely in Spanish. If the country music thing doesn't work out for him, Strait could easily have a career on the Tejano circuit. The title translates to "The King," and the last lines read: "A cowboy told me/You don't have to arrive first/but just know how to arrive." Appropriately, this sums up Strait's career thus far. His has been a journey of class, consistency and influence, with great humility.
The King, indeed.