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Honkytonkville ()

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The release of Honkytonkville should make anyone who harbored insane thoughts about George Strait having his best years behind him certifiable. While it may be his 27th album -- not counting greatest-hits and Christmas records -- Strait sounds hungrier than ever here. Produced by Strait and Tony Brown, the tough barroom ballads and breakneck dance tracks are back with a vengeance, and the material, written by the more imaginative tunesmiths in Nash Vegas, is his strongest in a decade. A quick for-instance is the jukebox-breaking opener, "She Used to Say That to Me," penned by Jim Lauderdale and John Scott Sherrill. Done is a slick 4/4 with a Wynn Stewart-esque melody line and a lyric that's as tender as it is tough, Strait wraps that voice of his around all the pain in it and comes out still standing. The title track, written by Buddy Brock, Dean Dillon (who is well represented here), and Kim Williams, is a fiddle-laden traditionalist anthem to the ghosts of people and places gone yet ever present. "Look Who's Back in Town," with its gorgeous piano lines (reminiscent of a Billy Sherrill production) sounds like a country version of Johnny Rivers' "Poor Side of Town," while everybody had better watch it because "Cowboys Like Us" could signal a return to outlaw country. The weepers work too, such as "Tell Me Something Bad About Tulsa," the Guy Clark-inspired "Desperately" by Bruce Robison and Monte Warden, and the soul-country of "Heaven Is Missing an Angel." But the barnburner on this one is "I Found Jesus on the Jailhouse Floor." It may be a gospel song, but it'll have the honky tonky line dancers pounding the beer before sweating it out on the dancefloor on the Saturday night before Sunday morning. It is completely conceivable to hear this song being done by Merle Haggard's Strangers in 1967 or by Buck Owens in 1969. "Honk if You Honky Tonk," another Dillon joint, is harder rocking than anybody but Montgomery Gentry -- and they will kick themselves for not recording it first. If the DJs at country radio can hear, they'll be playing the hell out of this one -- it's got five or six singles if it has one. Not that Strait was ever anything but country; this is the first hard country album of 2003, and he's got the torch burning bright for the tradition while not giving up an inch of his modernity. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi Hide synopsis

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