In case any of us had forgotten, George Strait is probably the greatest living country singer, something that he reminds us of on this latest LP, a collection of songs that finds the legendary performing tinging his classic style of country with a dash or two of the contemporary but never losing sight of what has made him great: his ability to move listeners.
Time and again, “moving” is the best way to describe the 13 songs found on Cold Beer Conversation. Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise, given Strait’s track record, but music history is littered with others who have lost the plot, and it’s more than refreshing to hear someone sound as brand-new today as they did more than 30 years ago. Strait has always been most effective as a balladeer, and that’s mostly the case here. Witness the tender, hook-laden “Something Going Down” (penned by Jamey Johnson and Tom Shapiro) the gorgeous “Everything I See” (a co-write with the always reliable Bubba Strait, among others) and “Wish You Will”, which just as easily could have been culled from one of his earlier releases.
It’s that eternally important balance of, as Strait sings, the distance between “wish you were here” and “wish you well”. It’s evident on those tunes and the more upbeat numbers such as the bluesy “Cheaper Than a Shrink” and Caribbean-tinged “Let It Go”. In each of those Strait seems to know: know what troubles us, makes us tick, keeps awake at night, breaks our hearts, heals our wounds, opens old wounds, makes us laugh, makes us drink, makes us cry. And all the while he just seems so dang cool. What more could you want?
Best among this lot is the title track, one co-written by former NRBQ man Al Anderson, a tune that has Anderson’s signature blend of happy and sad, the simple and the sophisticated, all the stuff that Strait’s best at. And most of this is done sans frills, with an emphasis on the almighty song and creating something that is as close as you can get to timeless in your own lifetime.
Never during this does Strait falter. Whatever you want to accuse him of (and what could you possibly complain about?) overreaching is never one of them, but then again neither is being staid. It’s refreshing in an era where there are too few new heroes in any kind of music to be found, when legends stop making meaningful music and up-and-comers see the art shined out of their music by over-production and hyper-marketing.
It’s good to have George Strait with us, giving us something to believe in and being someone we can believe in. In the end Cold Beer Conversation isn’t just another in a long line of superior releases, it’s a beacon of good writing, playing and singing. But it’s also all we could want or expect from a man who embodies the best that country music has to offer.