George Strait: Country Pop Stardom With 'Twang'
Country singer George Strait has racked up some impressive achievements over the course of his decades-long career: His 2008 album, Troubadour, won the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Country Album, and he's surpassed only by Elvis Presley and The Beatles in the number of platinum-selling albums he's had. His latest album, Twang, hits stores Aug. 11.
With his starched white shirts, 10-gallon hats and chiseled handsomeness, Strait is a throwback to a bygone era of heroic cowboy singers and actors, a twangy descendent of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. What makes him unusual is his consistency and enduring popularity.
Of course, consistency isn't the stuff of legends. Strait has never hit the newspapers with tales of wild living in a country tradition of everyone from Hank Williams to Johnny Cash to George Jones. Strait is not an outsize, brash showman like Garth Brooks. Strait's true precursors are Jim Reeves and Eddy Arnold, gentleman crooners who peaked in the 1960s as mannerly alternatives to Beatlemania. But those comparisons don't quite fit: Strait is his own man, ornery and independent in a quiet but firm way. Neither Reeves nor Arnold, for example, ever recorded a song about killing a killer as genial as "Arkansas Dave."
Strait and Tony Brown, his producer since his 1981 debut disc, Strait Country, have perfected a clean, crisp sound that bypasses decades of trends. That's one reason he could score hits during the heyday of outlaw country music in the 1970s and currently amid the bloated melodrama of acts such as Rascal Flatts and Montgomery Gentry. Strait's latest hit single, "Living for the Night," is a crooning ballad co-written by Strait; his son, Bubba Strait; and veteran Nashville songwriter Dean Dillon.
The song is no masterpiece, but it's a pretty piece of work and unusual in this respect: It's the first song Strait has written since his 1981 debut, and this new collaborating method with his son has resulted in the best song on Twang, the honky-tonk waltz called "Out of Sight, Out of Mind."
The twang in Strait's Texas-born voice and his prominent pedal-steel and fiddle backup have kept Strait from crossing over to pop stardom, which is just the way this courtly, modest performer likes it. Having sold 67 million albums and counting, he has nothing to prove. But that doesn't mean he doesn't prove consistency can be a viable, vital artistic reward.
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