In many respects, it’s never been a better time to be an aging mainstream artist in country music. Where before once your career lost radio relevance, you were relegated to the pasture pretty quickly, perhaps performing at theaters in Branson, or on the county fair circuit if you could, now Americana has become a second home for many older country performers, producers such as Dave Cobb and Dan Auerbach have shown great interest in working with older artists, and with streaming and the internet, fans can stay connected regardless if the radio is paying attention or not.
We’ve seen a wide array of older performers taking advantage of these opportunities to relaunch their careers or maintain their prominence by releasing inspired and rejuvenated projects lately—artists such as Tanya Tucker, Reba McEntire, and John Anderson. But it just doesn’t feel like Clint Black is ready for any reinvention just yet. Instead, continuing on with the status quo, and recording safe songs in a safe manner that he’s comfortable with is where he’s at with his career, and that’s what you get with his latest record, Out Of Sane.
It’s not a bad record whatsoever, nor does it feel ill-advised in any significant way, whether you’re considering the song selection, or the music or production style. It just feels like Clint Black is going through the motions. The “Class of ’89” member who’s now 58-years-old has put together a strong legacy of songs over his career, and very well might end up in the Country Music Hall of Fame someday. But Out of Sane won’t really lend much to his resume. It probably won’t hurt it either. It’s just one of those records you listen to once or twice, and with so many other options for audio entertainment, you move on from fairly quickly.
Part of the issue with the record is a few of the songs meant to anchor it just don’t really work. The lead single was the very sappy “America (Still In Love With You)” that’s like an overly-sentimental love song rendered even worse when they try to twist it into a patriotic anthem. “A Beautiful Day” is so happy and inspirational, it makes you resent it. Out Of Sane feels very much like maudlin version of dad country. The title may imply we’ll get a record focusing on the unsettled mind perhaps proceeding a heartbreak, but most of the record surrounds the warm and fuzzy sentiments of love.
That said, that’s what some may seek out Clint Black for these days, and in that capacity he’s definitely capable. It’s not a bad version, and we really don’t need yet another take on Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin’,” but it may be one of the more pleasant moments of the record. Out Of Sane is country, but there are a few more rock-style moments, which might be Clint Black’s attempt to make this record feel relevant. But the song “The Only One” sounds like something that would be playing in the background of a Miami Vice scene while Don Johnson pulls up in a Corvette wearing a pastel suit.
Clint Black is probably in a satisfied and content moment in his life, and there’s not a lot of pain or frustration he feels the need to exorcise through music. He does come through with some solid material though. “Found It Anyway” is more along the lines of the Clint Black you go looking for in a new record, with quality writing, and a hot fiddle part. The bluesy “Find Myself” also marks a high point, and yes, it does feel like Black might benefit from a little soul searching about what kind of stamp he wants to leave with his music in the present tense.
It’s been a strange career track for Clint Black, from getting shot out of a cannon as part of the “Class of ’89,” to falling off sharply when he chose to put his family before his career, which you can’t blame him for. But now he’s sort of in that no man’s land—no longer popular enough for radio, though not quite all the way to that legendary status where maybe he feels compelled to return to his roots, or work in a more “Americana” direction with more interesting songs and a more eclectic approach.
Instead, he’s just content being Clint Black, which may not be very compelling for the country throwback hipsters or the exclusive Americana crowd. But to Clint’s core fans also probably in their late 50’s, his sentimental and pleasant songs that remind them of the time country actually sounded country are just fine.
1 1/4 Guns Up (6.5/10)
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