There are great joys to be had in George Strait's phrasing, diction and emotional interpretation. And then there's the music.
George Strait had apparently recorded 33 albums before he travelled down to Jimmy Buffet's Key West studio to record It Just Comes Natural. Unfortunately, I haven't heard any of them. Not so much as a single song. And since Strait's sold in excess of 62 million copies of those 33 previous albums, I guess that made me something of an oddball here in his home state of Texas.
Still, there it is. I wasn't born in Texas, I didn't even get here as soon I could. But I am doing my darnedest to fit in now that I'm here. Y'all.
Taken as a Texan rite of passage, George Strait is pretty dang easy to swallow, more Shiner than calf fry, certainly. It Just Comes Natural is all about comfort, not speed. It's the sort of effortlessly smooth yet traditional country music you'll find those good ol' boys and girls nodding along to in the bars and back-parlours of the Texas Hill Country. All polished boots, bright white Sunday-go-to-meeting hats, and tight little bootlace ties, he's the Frank Sinatra of Country without a doubt.
"Give It Away", the first single off the album and Strait's 53rd number one hit song, opens things up with a couple of delightful guitar runs and a spoken introduction. Could he be any more country?
"She was stormin' through the house that day, and I could tell she was leaving, but I thought, Aw she'll be back, 'til she turned around and pointed at the wall and said..." With repeated spoken sections, and a velvet Gulf Coast fog of a voice, Strait details an abandoned lover's failure to recover from the break-up of his marriage. His wife is so over the whole thing, she doesn't even want her half of everything, so she just tells him to give it away. But, of course, he can't. Not ever.
"I've got a furnished house,
A diamond ring,
And a lonely, broken heart full of love
And I can't even give it away"
-- "Give It Away"
The great thing about It Just Comes Natural is -- inevitably -- that it does sound entirely natural. There's nothing forced here, no gimmicks, none of the clever-clever lyrics that Nashville often does so well. Just a whole bunch of well-constructed, expertly delivered, and misleadingly simple songs. Like Bruce Robison's "Wrapped", a thoroughly marvellous four minutes of uplifting country pop with quite the most straightforward message.
"Thought I was doing fine
'Bout to get you off my mind
I see your face and then I'm
Around your pretty little finger again"
There are great joys to be had in George Strait's phrasing, diction and emotional interpretation. And then there's the music: traditional country with an occasional hint of swing, never over-played, and always just right. There are 15 tracks on It Just Comes Natural. Strait has already scored one number one with "Give It Away", and at least five other songs here could match that achievement. "Wrapped"; the title track; "A Better Rain"; "I Ain't Her Cowboy Anymore"; and "How 'Bout Them Cowgirls". And the best thing is, they all sound pretty much exactly how you'd expect them to sound, if you remember that sometimes less is definitely more.
Of course, there are imperfections too. There's a single lazy flaw in the lyrics to "Why Can't I Leave Her Alone" that almost kills a great song. And Guy Clark's "Texas Cookin'" seems entirely out-of-place in almost every way. Nonetheless, I guess I have some catching up to do. The only problem is, Which of Strait's 33 other albums should I start with? Suggestions on a postcard, please.