John Anderson has one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary country music. If you have heard any of his big hits from the past thirty-plus years (e.g., “Swingin’”, “Seminole Wind”, “Straight Tequila Nights”), you would immediately recognize his vocals on his latest disc. Anderson’s lazy drawl makes him seem laid back and easy going whether he’s hunting an alligator with razor-sharp teeth (“Louisiana Son of a Beast”) or headed to heaven (“I Will Cross O’er the River”). Anderson’s twangy inflections endow him with charm. He’s the good ol’ boy who enjoys simple pleasures of life.
One might mistake Anderson for a redneck because of his Southern accent and jingoistic declarations on Goldmine. After all, he leads off the album with the anthemic “Freedom Isn’t Free” where he declares his pride in America and the militaristic cost of liberty. Later on “Don’t Forget to Thank the Lord” he proclaims “in God we trust” and “if you don’t like it, friend, you can leave it” when speaking of the USA. But the problems with these songs aren’t his politics. A close examination of his lyrics reveals that he’s more inclusive than exclusive, and he’s motivated by love instead of loathing. The problem is Anderson’s reliance on cliché. Country music is full of songs on these themes; there’s nothing original here.
And Anderson, who wrote or co-wrote 12 of the 13 songs here, is a marvelous songwriter. There’s plenty of evidence here. There’s the ghostly “Back Home”, which tells the story of a mother whose soldier son comes to fetch her from the hospital and bring her back to her family place. He underemphasizes the reveal that her son is dead and taking her to heaven. This makes the tale more chilling. Anderson’s story about how money worries make one so numb so that even doing simple chores or loving one’s spouse becomes problematic turns “Holdin’ On” into a tear-jerker without maudlin details. Facts like the porch needs painting and the grass needs mowing say more than any melodramatic statements could.
Some tunes are just joyful romps, like the title track, “Happily Ever After”, and “I Work A lot Better”. He’s not embarrassed to be romantic and lusty. Anderson sings love enhances sex (“Without your lovin’ / I can’t do nothing’ / I need your fingers / pushing my buttons “) with a sly expression. The mix of upbeat songs like these with the more serious ones suggests the range of his compositional talents.
Then there’s the one song Anderson did not write, but that was written for him by Merle Haggard. “Magic Mama from Malibu” is one peculiar track. The lyrics run from the suggestive to the perplexing sung over a Western swing beat. It’s unclear if the title character is a transsexual (“she had a little pussy cat / and a bulldog too”) or if the words are just silly details (“she had a swinging backyard / with an ocean view”) without a deeper meaning or intent. In any case, Anderson sings the lines with joyful exuberance. He makes the song fun.
After more than 30 years of recording, Anderson’s voice still makes him stand out from the crowd of country wannabes. Goldmine demonstrates he’s still someone who should be treasured for his talents. There are plenty of riches to be found on this disc.