From the looks of him -- long, unkempt hair and wrinkled jeans jacket over a black T-shirt -- on the cover of his major-label debut, Man with a Memory, you might expect that Joe Nichols aspires to be the next Kris Kristofferson-style Nashville rebel. Appearances can be deceiving, however. Nichols may look like a slacker, but if his music were accurately represented in his coiffure and wardrobe, he'd have razor-cut, blown-dry locks tucked under a cowboy hat. Vocally, he sounds like Alan Jackson trying to make like George Jones, and he sings formula Nashville country songs played by the usual suspects among Music City's session players. The album's lead single, typically released months ahead of the album and slowly climbing the charts when it appeared, is "The Impossible," an unfortunate piece of confused country philosophy about how supposedly impossible things happen. In the first verse, the narrator's apparently invincible father turns out to be able to feel pain after all; in the second a paralyzed friend learns to walk. The unfortunate part is that the chorus inescapably evokes September 11 ("Sometimes the things you think would never happen/Happen just like that"), which is in very bad taste, especially when the song comes to its real point, as the narrator concludes that maybe his girlfriend will come back. Most of the other songs range from barroom weepers ("She Only Smokes When She Drinks" is a virtual rewrite of the John Anderson hit "Straight Tequila Night") to bland expressions of romantic devotion. Tom T. Hall's "Life Don't Have to Mean Nothing at All" is a welcome respite from the mediocrity, but it's only one song. Nichols may make it to country stardom, especially if he cleans up his appearance, but his first major-label effort doesn't make that an appealing prospect.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann