Joe Nichols

III

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Joe Nichols gets a little loose on his third major-label album, appropriately titled III, as evidenced by the very title of its first single, "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off." It's a silly name and would seem like a throwaway novelty, but it's not only genuinely funny, Nichols delivers it with sly humor and a low-key swagger that shows more character, as a vocalist, than he did on his previous albums. And that's the key to this album -- it's the first time that Nichols displays some genuine on-record personality that sets him apart from the Music City machine. While he still has a couple of generic numbers here, by and large the material is much stronger, bearing a harder country edge than the songs on his previous album, Revelation. Since Nichols has always had an appealing twang to his baritone, this harder country bent suits him well, particularly because it's not only present on straight-ahead country numbers like the two-step "Honky Tonk Girl" or Steve Earle's mournful "My Old Friend the Blues," Nichols also gives such softer, '70s-styled numbers like "Talk Me out of Tampa" a touch of grit, which is something he couldn't do on his previous albums. He's managed to steer away from the suburban country tract he was on and head back toward the country, which has made his music livelier and quite entertaining. Nichols still isn't a traditionalist on the level of his clear idol Alan Jackson -- the subjects, sound, and feel are more modern than traditional -- but he manages to strike a good balance of classic and contemporary here on III, which not only makes it his best album to date, but the first to suggest that he's carved out a distinctive niche for himself.

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