You want to like the new Clay Walker so bad. You remember some of those great songs from earlier in his career like “If I Could Make a Living,” or even later in his career with “She Won’t Be Lonely Long.” 90’s country of which Clay Walker contributed handsomely to is back on the upswing of popularity after all, and you see Clay standing there in his cowboy hat, naming off Texas and Tennessee in the title of his new album, and anticipation builds.
You also can’t help but feel for and root for the guy just in general. A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 1996 meant Clay Walker would have an uphill battle just stay alive let alone keep his career going, which he’s done in a way that’s inspiring to us all. But when it comes to this new album, the prognosis is a bit more grim. Hats off to him for continuing to stick it out, and you wish him nothing but the best. But to be frank, there’s just not a lot of reason to bother with Texas to Tennessee.
There are a couple of decent songs here, and Clay’s voice is as strong as ever. The album’s also guilty of being country in the respect that it’s more country than it is anything else. But the layering in of electronic drums on almost every track, the cliche lyrics utilized on the majority of songs, and the attempt here to be relevant to today as opposed to relevant to Clay results in a dodgy, inconsistent, and sometimes cringy experience as you work your way through this record.
It’s not even that there’s isn’t an audience for this kind of “country.” You hear it all over country radio. It’s just not the audience for Clay Walker, and radio is not going to play ball with him now no matter what he releases. The song kicks in, and immediately it leans on electronic pulsations and click tracks, which underpin buzzwords to attract that least common denominator crowd, while true country fans quickly punch out.
There are a couple of exceptions. “Cowboy Loves a Woman” is a welcome respite from the electronic beats, and is the kind of song you would hope for from late-career Clay Walker. Same goes for the title track. Both songs come in the dead center of the record, and were co-written by Clay with Jennifer Hanson and Mark Nesler.
And if nothing else, Texas to Tennessee includes quite a bit of steel guitar, and on most tracks. But just as much as steel guitar is a strong signifyer a song is traditional country, electronic drum beats are a signifyer a song is not. These mixed signals render Texas to Tennesse neither fish nor fowl, neither classic nor contemporary. It sounds like a Jason Aldean record with steel guitar overdubbed.
The lyrical themes do hug close to country, but again, in that very cliche way. It’s not that there aren’t some good ideas here, like “Loving You Then.” But when you deliver lines like “You look good climbing up holding on to my John Deere, kickin’ back in my lap with a cold beer,” it just sets your eyes to rolling. “Girl,” “beer,” “truck,” “road,” they’re all here bogging down these songs, while the “boyfriend country” style of songwriting also creeps onto this project.
Along with establishing that Clay Walker is clearly not ready to grow old with his music yet, an album like Texas to Tennessee really underscores what rare birds artists like Luke Combs, Jon Pardi, Parker McCollum, Carly Pearce, and Lainey Wilson are in the mainstream. Bring up these names to some traditionalists, and they’ll immediately scoff. But all of these artists have released mainstream records recently that are a lot more country, and a lot more lyrically enriching than what Clay Walker has released here, and all from artists 20+ years Clay Walker’s junior.
Texas to Tennessee will find its audience and appreciation from folks who want their traditional country with more contemporary styling and themes, and there are certainly much worse records out there in the mainstream. But for the rest of us, there’s just too many better options out there to try and make this record work.
1 1/4 Guns Down (4/10)
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