Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Album Review: Gary Nicholson - Texas Songbook

Being the seasoned songwriting talent that he is, it's no surprise that Gary Nicholson's new album Texas Songbook is characterized by some mighty good songwriting.  Indeed, he's written hit songs for the likes of Patty Loveless, Montgomery Gentry, Vince Gill, and a host of other artists.  Sonically, the light production is primarily influenced by traditional Texas-style country, but carries traces of other genre styles as well, including Western swing and jazz.  In addition, Texas Songbook includes guest appearances by a variety of collaborators, including Randy Rogers, Lee Roy Parnell, Marcia Ball, among others.

Though currently based in Nashville, it's clear that Gary Nicholson remains a Texas boy at heart.  Genuine love and appreciation for the Lone Star State is a recurring theme that runs throughout the set.  This is particularly apparent in songs that celebrate the little peculiarities of the state of Texas and its people.  "Talkin' Texan" depicts the wild imagination of a Texan man, explaining that "He ain't lyin'/ He's just talkin' Texan."  In a similar vein, the humorous "She Feels Like Texas" tells of a woman who's "in a Lone Star state of mind everywhere she goes," calling the Eiffel tower "the biggest oil rig I ever seen."

Texas Songbook opens with "Texas Weather," a song that draws on the erratic weather patterns of Texas as a metaphor for a relationship that has seen dramatic shifts between ups and downs. (With the word "Texas" or "Texan" appearing in the titles of five of the thirteen songs, it's definitely no secret that the man loves Texas) "Texas Weather" is a fine example of Gary's notable proficiency in utilizing figurative language to create vivid lyrics.

The subject of cheating is addressed more than once, with "Fallin' & Flyin'" (a song previously performed by Jeff Bridges in the film Crazy Heart) portraying a narrator swept along by temptation, only to be abruptly brought back down to reality when faced with the consequences of his betrayal.  With "Woman In Texas, Woman In Tennessee," Gary chides another man for his shameless two-timing antics.  With interesting, cleverly-crafted lyrics, both tunes are excellent additions to the extensive catalog of country cheating songs.

The album could do without "Texas Ruby," which is an ode to a curvaceous female stripper body.  With a great deal of over-the-top imagery, the lyrics are more likely to inspire cringing than singing along.  Still, with doses of saxophone and accordion, the track is enjoyable on a sonic level.  Likewise, name-dropper "Listen to Willie" might appeal to some of Willie Nelson's biggest fans, but might not garner much repeat listening.

Closing track "Somedays You Write the Song" (previously recorded by Guy Clark) is one of the album's finest.  Backed by little more than an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, Gary expresses the value of songwriting in helping one to sort out confusing emotions, with his vocal performance exuding raw sincerity.  The song's ultimate point is summed up in the unshakable hook "Somedays you write the song, somedays the song writes you."

There are no unnecessary bells and whistles here, just straight-up honky tonk-style country music delivered from the heart.  With strong lyrical content, and organic musical arrangements throughout, Gary's Texas Songbook is a highly enjoyable listen.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)