George Strait's greatest attribute is his consistency. It's not just how he rarely delivers a bad album but how his music remains rooted in pure Texas honky tonk, a fact that makes his reliably excellent music all the more remarkable. Sometimes Strait steps beyond reliable and delivers something close to transcendent, and 2006's nothing-but-the-basics It Just Comes Natural was one of those times. Playing exclusively to his strengths, the album was lean and strong, yet another hit under his belt, and more than earning its honors as the CMA's Album of the Year. It would be tempting for most artists to turn out another album just like the last but Strait isn't like most artists, as his 2008 follow-up, Troubadour, gracefully illustrates. Troubadour finds Strait turning introspective, getting softer and mellower, perhaps even slightly melancholy, yet it's a comforting melancholy, as the album never wallows in sadness -- there are plenty of Texas 2-steps, breezy mid-tempo tunes, and love songs to temper the blue moments here. Nevertheless, Strait is the troubadour of the title, a musician who bears the scars of the road and is a richer singer for it. This is especially evident on Troubadour, as it has a warm, burnished sound suited for his gently weathered voice, and its 12 songs are by and large exceptionally crafted and deceptively simple; they're songs that benefit greatly from Strait's casual virtuosity. As always, he has his pick of the best songsmiths -- Dean Dillon, Robert Earl Keen, Al Anderson, Buddy Cannon, Monty Holmes, and Scotty Emerick are among the writers bearing credits here -- and he has an unerring ability to pick songs that suit his strengths and weave together to form a cohesive whole (the only minor misstep being a too-anthemic tribute to Johnny Cash, "House of Cash"). Here, the mood is subdued, with even the lighter numbers not quite breaking a sweat, but that's the charm of Troubadour: in its relaxed, intimate way it recalls Merle Haggard's quieter, story-heavy albums of the early '70s, only with Strait's signature, unhurried attitude, a trait that only grows more attractive over the years.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
feat: Patty Loveless
feat: Dean Dillon