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Chris Cagle

Best of Chris Cagle

(Capitol; US: 9 Feb 2010; UK: Import)

The first track on The Best of Chris Cagle, 2005’s “Hey Y’all”, presents a scenario straight out of an ‘80s hard-rock music video, with riffs that aren’t that far away, either. There’s a party going on, on the banks of a lake, with plenty of beer and loud music. “We ain’t leaving ‘til they call the law!”, the crowd proclaims. Sure enough, the sheriff arrives with a few cars of police. He opens the door, but wait, he’s got a guitar, and so do the others, so they join in on the rockin’. I’m imaging at least one of the cops is a leggy blonde in a skimpier version of the police uniform (similar to Josh Thompson’s recent video for “Beer on the Table”, which pulls the old factory worker-turns-into-stripper trick). The song soon takes on the feeling of infinity, not just in the repetition of the “Hey y’all” chorus, but in the story itself. If the law won’t stop the party, when will it end? They’ll be having their Skynyrd-on-the-truck-bed party until the end of time.


A similar infinity circle lurks in “My Love Goes On and On”, from Cagle’s 2000 debut album. When it starts, it seems like a joke, a spoof of a country love song. “My love goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on,” he begins. Again, fiddles meet a sort-of hard-rock sound. The song is the old “my love’s deeper than the ocean” routine, but with a little goofy spunk to it. He’d even give up his high-mileage truck for her. As the song fades on, Cagle is still going.


These are clever spins on absolute clichés, Cagle’s specialty. They still wear their cliché-ness proudly, and are delivered with a smile. “What a Beautiful Day” is one of the most cheerful country love songs ever; he’s more or less shaken the country out. His “oh what a feeling” sentiment is paired with Bruce Hornsby-esque piano. “Wal-Mart Parking Lot” people-watches, and makes life sound rather rosy. “I Breathe In, I Breathe Out” is a she’s-left-me song, but focused on the steps forward. Similarly, “Look at What I’ve Done” starts off a typical heartbreak story, but ultimately posits his dumping her as a positive step forward in her life. When he realizes this, he smiles. “After all the things I’ve done to her / Now she’s strong”, he sings.


Cagle sings some of the happiest-sounding leaving songs you’ll hear. Within that approach, he can be rather witty. In “What Kinda Gone”, she tells him she’s gone, but “what kind of gone are we talking ‘bout here?”, he wonders in a smart-ass way, listing off the various meanings of the word. In “I’d Be Lying”, he’s twisting words and asking us to chase the meaning: “If I told you I was wrong / And wanted you to come back home / I’d be lying…next to you tonight”.


The sound of that song is ‘80s smooth-pop cheese. Despite the name-checking of country legends in “My Life’s Been a Country Song” (which is really just another rhetorical device), Cagle’s music is a textbook case of how country these days equals ‘80s and ‘90s pop. His definition of country does involve hardship, but it’s more about the positive bounce-back from it. In “My Life’s Been a Country Song”, he spells this out (“It’s all about falling down and getting back up”), though it’s crystal clear across this survey of his four albums. Judging by The Best of Chris Cagle, “getting back up” is usually where his mind is at.

Rating:

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine ErasingClouds.com, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.


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