Ronnie Milsap’s comeback, Country Again, proves there’s still room in the fray for artists who stick with what brought ‘em to the top. Even pushing 70, he’s not making amends for liking classic honky-tonk country in the grand tradition of Conway Twitty and Hank Williams. From the moment you hear the title track’s bizarre sonic tribute to Charlie Daniels, which tells the tale of a good old boy turning his truck into a time machine, traveling to a future where “they’re still holding on / to that down home tradition” and playing real country music again, it is abundantly clear that Milsap’s not cowtowing to anyone. He’s making country music the way he wants to make country music, Taylor Swift and that ilk be damned.
The result is his best album since 1982’s Inside. “Almost Mine” sounds like classic honky-tonk he would have recorded at the start of his career, a piano-tinged melody which builds its depth atop his honest, down-home delivery: “I need you to need me”, he sings, “whenever your life gets you down / and you need me around”. He’s the lovable cowboy with his hat in his hand, just trying to get his true love to give him a chance. In fact, the best songs on the album are in that country ballad tradition, his protagonists being everyday guys just trying to get through the night with a woman by their side. “You can see the good in me”, he sings on “Even Fools Get Lucky,” and you believe he’s telling us things straight.
There’s no posturing to even the slightest hint of modernity; this is what country used to be when guys like Chris LeDoux were recording two workmanlike albums of rodeo gold year in and year out, before country even got a hint of pop. It is incredibly refreshing that even the single for the album is a spectacular throwback. “If You Don’t Want Me To” sounds like it could have been right at home on Night Things next to “Daydreams About Night Things” and “I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)”, both of which rest among his all-time classics. The music which built his career now sustains it, and Milsap makes no apology for continuing to go his own way. That alone makes Country Again one of the more inviting albums of the year for fans of traditional country.