After the bleak, showbiz disappointment of 1980's I've Got Something to Say, David Allan Coe showed his eternal penchant for rebounding by releasing what is arguably the finest album of his career in 1981. Invictus Means Unconquered is a solid collection of originals, co-writes, and a cover or two that is so emotionally riveting, gorgeously played and sung, and tastefully produced it's a shame it was released at the height of urban cowboy-ism and sank without a trace. This time out, Coe really did have something to say, evidenced by the poem "Invictus" that appears as an epigraph for the album. Billy Sherrill took a front production seat and Ron Bledsoe concentrated on the instrumentation and the mix. The opening cut, "Rose Knows," by the seasoned songwriting team of Steve Goodman, Ray Kennedy, and Rose, featured a shimmering B-3, a staccato Telecaster, and a chugging pedal steel just under Coe's effortless vocal. True to form, Coe has always been underrated as a singer, and nowhere is this more evident than on Invictus. His co-write with Guy and Susanna Clark on "Ain't It Funny How Love'll Do Ya" is one of the most convincing vocal performances Coe ever recorded, ranking with "Mona Lisa Lost Her Smile" and "Would You Lay With Me (In a Field of Stone)." As if this weren't enough for a one-two punch, there's also the Coe-Shel Silverstein collaboration with its ethereal backing vocals and echo-plexed pedal steel. The conviction in his voice is so present, it almost cracks, but he never quite allows himself to lose control. These are the words of a man who has stared into the face of broken love's void and lived to tell about it. And yet, Coe just goes deeper with Ray Kennedy and Bobby David's "Purple Heart" ("I should get the Purple Heart for loving you"). Whoever she (referred to as "shortcake" in the previous track) is, Coe is not letting her -- or himself -- off the hook (he dedicates this one to his former alter ego, the Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy, for keeping David Allan Coe alive). The album movers toward lighter territory with a killer reading of Gary P. Nunn's "London Homesick Blues" that rivals Jerry Jeff Walker's easily, and this writer would argue it is superior. Coe's reading of "Stand by Your Man" is heartfelt and moving, and takes on a new meaning in a man's voice. It's a plea, not a declaration. The band is crack on Invictus; Bledsoe held the reins tight and let Sherrill create an atmosphere that was both immediate and dreamy. While there isn't a weak second on this disc, two other tracks stand out above the rest: Coe's version of Silverstein's "Someplace to Come to When It Rains" and he and Clark's outlaw anthem dedicated to John Dillinger, "I Love Robbin' Banks." From top to bottom, Invictus Means Unconquered towers above most country records not only of the era, but of all time. It's a quintessential example of everything country music can achieve when it is honest, true, and from the center of a broken heart.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek