John Anderson

Easy Money

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Like many veteran country stars, John Anderson didn't retire so much as fade from the spotlight as his new records slowly started to sell less and less. After an early-'80s peak, his hits started to dry up after the mid-'90s and while he continued to work, cutting records and playing shows, he slowly fell off of Nashville's radar. Cut to the middle of the 2000s, when Big & Rich were major players in the Music City, and their key songwriter, John Rich, approached Anderson with the offer of producing and collaborating on a new record. Anderson accepted and the resulting album, Easy Money, saw the singer returning to his first major label, Warner, but it's a homecoming in another sense, too, because it's the biggest, boldest, and best record he's made in a long, long time. Some of this is surely due to Rich, but not because he's the driving force on the album. Yes, he collaborates but he doesn't force his personality on Anderson; instead, he gives Anderson room to be himself, letting the singer veer from wry humor to sentiment. Humor is a crucial part to Anderson's music, and it makes a welcome return here, which is why Easy Money is quite a bit different than Anderson's recent comebacks. It's easy to forget that in 2001 he released a big record, Nobody's Got It All, on Columbia, produced by Blake Chancey and Paul Worley, the team responsible for the Dixie Chicks' breakthrough hit, and that Keith Stegall helmed 1997's Takin' the Country Back, so Easy Money isn't his first big-budget, high-profile comeback, but it is the best because Rich really understands Anderson. There may be a moment or two when the album gets a little too close to the gargantuan gonzo country of Big & Rich's Muzik Mafia for comfort -- "Funky Country" suits the duo, or perhaps their protégée Cowboy Troy better than it does Anderson -- but they're fleeting moments that nevertheless fall within Anderson's comfort zone, so he pulls it off with ease. Most of Easy Money feels natural and unforced, whether Anderson is singing the barroom weeper "Something to Drink About," the riotous George Jones tribute "Brown Liquor," or the lovely "You Already Know My Love." This gives the music a richness that separates it from his admirable, but occasionally stilted, recent records, and this is due to both the expertly chosen material and Anderson's re-emergence as a writer here. Just over half the record was co-written by Anderson -- along with such collaborators as Rich, Shannon Lawson, and Cowboy Troy, who reveals a previously unheard sensitivity on "Bonnie Blue" -- and his songs stand proudly alongside such standards as "Swingin'" and "Seminole Wind," boasting the same kind of subtle craft; these are songs that are so laid back and enjoyable, it's easy to take for granted just how well-written they are. The same could be said for Easy Money as a whole -- Anderson makes it all look so easy here that it's hard to believe that he hasn't made a record this good in years, but he hasn't since at least the early '90s, possibly the early '80s.

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