Back to Tennessee

Billy Ray Cyrus

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Back to Tennessee Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

It's no coincidence that Billy Ray Cyrus' return to Tennessee happens the same week his daughter Miley leaves Hollywood for the homeland in the big-screen debut of Hannah Montana: taken together, the album and the film are a multimedia project about the Cyrus family's rejection of Hollywood for the heartland. Of course, this is all an act. The Cyruses aren't leaving Hollywood, not when Miley is one of the biggest stars in America, and Billy Ray isn't even from Tennessee, so this is all a charade. Then again, even at his prime, Billy Ray was never considered much more than a cartoon cowboy, scooting along with a near-novelty hit in "Achy Breaky Heart," so the studied calculation of Back to Tennessee doesn't necessarily ring false, even if his affected drawl certainly does on "He's Mine." That's not the only time that his exaggerated swagger strikes a sour note -- Cyrus never quite sounds right when he's raising hell as a "Thrillbilly," or when he's aping an outlaw on "Country as Country Can Be," or even when he's singing a syrupy, icky duet with Miley on "Butterfly Fly Away." Billy Ray sounds the best on Back to Tennessee when he doesn't dip too far in either direction, when he doesn't get too country or pop, when he does the kind of arena-country that made him a star back in 1992. This doesn't happen all that often -- it's on the minor-key shuffle "I Could Be the One" or the pumping "Love Is a Lesson" -- but when it does, the record serves up some goofy good times that nevertheless manage to puncture the entire conceit behind the album, not to mention its companion, Hannah Montana: The Movie.

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