John Anderson: Bigger Hands

On Bigger Hands, John Anderson is in a more back-to-basics mindset.

John Anderson

Bigger Hands

US Release: 2009-06-09
UK Release: Import
Label: Country Crossing

John Anderson’s last album was titled Easy Money, a reference to the way his 30-year career has and hasn’t taken off, how he has become a legend to some while only occasionally having a commercial hit. Or, as the album’s title song put it, a career as a musician “is a damn hard way to make easy money”. That album pushed his brand of country in some funky new directions, while still showcasing his gifts: his grizzled but rich singing voice, his slyness, the way he can do both ballads and more rocking numbers like nobody’s business. That album wasn’t the big hit that he, producer John Rich, and the big-time record label (Rich’s Warner Bros imprint Raybaw) may have been hoping for. So this time he’s on his own indie label and working with co-producer James Stroud, who produced Anderson’s 1992 album Seminole Wind, which was his most successful album, in terms of sales.

On Bigger Hands, Anderson is in a more back-to-basics mindset. The album is more reminiscent in style of ‘90s efforts like Seminole Wind and Solid Ground than Easy Money or fantastic, genre-melding mid-‘80s albums like All the People Are Talkin’. Anderson’s focus this time is on taking solidly written country songs and singing them well, instead of trying anything new.

Even 30 years into his career, Anderson is a heck of a singer, one of country music’s finest. He has a rich, thick voice and can convey laughter and tears in one motion. What keeps Bigger Hands from ranking with his best albums isn’t his singing, and it isn’t really the arrangements, which are sturdy honky-tonk fodder if not that special. It’s the songs.

Bigger Hands starts off well enough, with a fun barn-burner about waking up after a night of full-on drinking and asking the philosophical question, “How can I be so thirsty this morning / After all I drank last night?” That wit plays too into “Cold Coffee and Hot Beer”, a loneliness song painting its protagonist into a dark place in the lightest of ways. Anderson sings the turn-around lines, the moment where he imagines her coming back (then, yes, he’d have hot coffee and cold beer), with loads of glee. As on “How Can I Be So Thirsty?”, it sounds like he’s having a great time singing, and that spirit carries through the song. “Bar Room Country” has that same energy to it, though the chorus feels more rote. “Shorty’s Long Gone” goes for wildness, rocking the proceedings up more, but has a monotonous melody and story-wise is fairly hollow. “Hawaia in Hawaii” (as in “how are you in Hawaii?”) is witty, but again rather familiar; not that much to it past the title, and placing Hawaii place names in a ‘she’s left me’ song.

If the uptempo and light-in-tone numbers are a mixed bag, the more sedate ballads are about as much so. “Missing Her Again” has lift to it, at least, that helps drive the missing-her point home. “Fade Out” has a nice tune as well, even if it, like many of these songs, turns to clichés over vivid storytelling or descriptions. “What Used to Turn Me On” is a clever, rooted-in-tradition tale of drinking’s downside: “What used to turn me on / Has turned on me”. But “The Greatest Story Ever Told” is as trite a love song as gets written these days. Even Anderson can’t sing it to life. The faith-driven title track, the album closer, isn’t much better, and isn’t helped by the bluesy music, which makes it sounds more dire than inspirational.

The song on Bigger Hands that’s likely to garner the most attention is Anderson’s own version of “Shuttin’ Detroit Down”, the song he co-wrote with John Rich, who had a hit with his own version earlier in the year. That success was mostly about place and time; the song hit a nerve during a time of economic decline. Anderson’s version is intriguing for how comparatively less important it sounds. He sings it with little of Rich’s drama, which makes it less impactful in that move-people-to-get-angry way, but more impactful at the same time. Anderson has never been much of a lecturer, more of a singer, and what he does with “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” is get it rolling and sing it smoothly, showing off the melody and illustrating the ways it is a well-written song, not just a statement. In that same way Bigger Hands does play to his strengths. The results are just not consistently strong.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.