George Strait – Honky Tonk Time Machine

It’s been a good month or so for fans of ’80s and ’90s country music. Reba’s back in rare form, Billy Ray Cyrus joined the “yee haw” movement and Brooks & Dunn taught radio-friendly young’uns how it’s done. Even tragedy has its silver lining, with old souls and curious listeners digging deeper into Earl Thomas Conley’s catalog after his recent passing.

Before all that came Honky Tonk Time Machine, a nostalgic retracing of George Strait’s bootsteps that proves the King of Country Music isn’t close to relinquishing his ten-gallon crown.

As you might suspect, Strait sings about drinking on Saturday night (“Every Little Honky Tonk Bar,” “Codigo”), but not getting drunk enough to impact Sunday school attendance (“God and Country Music,” “What Goes Up”). He also tips his Resistol to the past, with the line-danceable title track and a cover of Johnny Paycheck’s “Old Violin” – an addition to Strait’s short list of songs (“Murder on Music Row,” “Kicked Outta Country”) about older country singers getting pushed out of the spotlight for which they invented the lightbulb.

Beyond those tried-and-true tropes, there’s “The Weight of the Badge,” a reminder that not all cops are jerks. We’re also given a glimpse at Strait’s funny side with “Sing One with Willie,” a duet with Willie Nelson about how the two giants of Texas music never managed to team up until these sessions. It’s already a dated joke, considering the pair’s one-off live jam in Nashville during a star-studded Jan. 12 tribute to Nelson’s music, but it’s a fun song complete with namedrops of Toby Keith, Merle Haggard and Julio Iglesias.

In all, Strait and the usual cast of co-writers (Dean Dillon and son Bubba Strait) provide an ideal album for folks unamused by country radio and uninterested in Americana, without sounding too dated or cliché for a wider audience.

George Strait
Honky Tonk Time Machine
[MCA Nashville]