“Trying to figure out life, trying to figure out girls,” the hat-wearing traditionalist George Strait ponders on the title track of his surprise LP Cold Beer Conversation. Unlike today’s alcohol-fueled binges and weekend red-dirt rendezvous, the new stories Strait unravels are ripped right out of the American Heartland– simplistic but overwhelmingly powerful.
Cold Beer Conversation is a home-grown, hand-sown sampling of the blue-collar lifestyle. “Life’s tough, and then you die,” Strait tenderly handles on the precisely-monumental “Let It Go,” a mixture of laid-back tropical flair and wholesome roots: here he declares that life is just that, life. You deal with it, and then move on. “Sometimes, you gotta let it go and let it all wash on under the bridge.” His vocal is particularly commanding here, as it is throughout much of his Conversation. After decades of music-making, his specific melodic choices have never faltered but only flourished even more.
Strait has ripened his sense of storytelling, too, notably on “Goin’, Goin’, Gone,” about a man working a dead-end job just to make ends meet. He’s clocked in his 40 hours for the week and is more than ready to release that crippling stress out on the town.
The Conversation piece is also heightened with moments like the sultry wooing of “Something Going Down” and the honky-tonk rattle of “Rock Paper Scissor.” As mainstream country leans completely outside of the box these days, Strait demonstrates how tradition can be hip, cool and even harder rocking than what Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan have been able to give fans the past 7 years or so. The living legend hasn’t changed a thing about who he is as an artist, and instead he draws from influences like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash to re-energize what it means to be country in 2015.
The easiness of “Wish You Well,” too, gives Strait a reflective sigh to gaze into the “bottle in my hand.” He sings, “When I get to the bottom of it, I got five more in that bucket.” Again, alcohol is a medium through which to process not to callously forget. “Six Mexican beers between ‘wish you were here’ and ‘wish you well,'” he cries tears into his beer, as Hank Williams would have done.
Strait’s Conversation, also supported by the amusingly truthful “Cheaper Than a Shrink,” arrives at a crucial time for the mainstream brand that is country music. Sam Hunt, Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett are pushing the format into full-on urban-pop land, but Strait, often referred to as The King of Country Music, reclaims his throne to compel everyone else to remember exactly what country should sound like. “I believe in God, even when he’s silent,” he coos on the emotional steam-rolling closer “Even When I Can’t Feel It.” “I believe in the sun, even when it isn’t shining. I believe in good luck, even when the dealer don’t deal it.” Elsewhere, he peels back the layers on his life even more than he ever has previously: “Everything I See,” a song written remembering his father (who passed away in 2013), is an exquisite, gut-punching testament of the folding of time and moving on to greener pastures (of life). Strait has accomplished tremendous things in his long career, but he declares that he’s just not ready to give in, quite yet. He has so much more story to tell. We are merely along for the exciting ride.
Must-Listen Tracks: “Cold Beer Conversation,” “Wish You Well,” “Cheaper Than a Shrink,” “Everything I See”
Grade: 4.5 out of 5
Image Source: UMG