It’s easy to take an artist like George Strait for granted. He’s just so consistently good, one can sometimes let this ever-welcome predictability get in the way of truly appreciating what makes the man so darn good. Therefore, the singer’s latest, Honky Tonk Time Machine, deserves a close look.
Everything on it is top tier, but a few selections require our special attention. “God And Country Music,” which includes the amazing Lori McKenna in its writing credits, mixes religion and music in a way that doesn’t ever come off preachy. Sung over a sparse piano/acoustic arrangement, Strait takes it slow and thoughtfully. One of its best lines sums up the tight connection between Christianity and country: “Like Johnny Cash’s arm round Billy Graham.”
Although it’s far lighter, “Sing One With Willie,” which also features Willie Nelson singing along, is a sweet pairing of two country legends. Now, George has recorded with Nelson, just like every other singer on the planet. “Every Little Honky Tonk” steps sprightly, exactly the way a honky tonk dance song should do. “Old Violin,” though, is far sadder. It’s the sort of weeper perfectly suited for the late George Jones. Nevertheless, Strait shows he knows how to bring on all the sadness. Strait also turns serious for “The Weight of the Badge,” which salutes the law by getting far more personal than political.
The album’s title track revs it up with a lively groove, which features a whole lot of nice string instrument soloing along with truly honky tonking piano. “Some Nights” is a brokenhearted breakup song that is a reminder of just how effortlessly Strait can give his songs life. His voice is perfect, and his phrasing is Sinatra-esque in its ability to infuse each word and line with meaning.
At a time when too many country albums are spoiled by sonic experiments that mess up otherwise fine projects, it’s such a delight to find an album this good, from start to finish. George Strait’s album is no ride in any clunky old sci-fi time machine; it was created in real time, instead. So, whatever sort of machine you want to call it, let’s hope and pray Strait keeps it rolling forward for a long, long time.