Coming on the heels of the brilliant Invictus Means Unconquered in 1980, Tennessee Whiskey from 1981 is another strong David Allan Coe outing, full of interesting song choices and hard country performances à la Merle Haggard and George Jones. Refusing to give into the flavor-of-the-month generic country "talent," Coe stuck to what he knew and sharpened the edges. Opening with the Dean Dillon/Linda Hargrove classic title track, with a honky tonk performance that is softened only by the swell of backing vocals, it sets a high standard for the rest of the album to follow, which it does. Coe's own folk-country nugget, "If I Knew," softened the electric guitars in favor of a 12-string and a honky tonk piano with a slippery steel in the distance to color his vocal before a banjo arrives on the final two choruses and transforms them into something akin to a bluegrass stomp. The most eclectic and risky track on the set is a cover of Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay." Many have tried and almost no one has succeeded with this one, but Coe's read is immediate, deep, and soulful in a restless country way. Anyone who ever doubted his ability to interpret a classic tune should give this one a listen because, frankly, it'll blow your mind. The band puts in a credible performance as well, with its funky, dirty groove. Shel Silverstein and Fred Koller's lovely "Juanita" is given the Volcano-era Jimmy Buffett treatment. The blues-ed-out "We Got a Bad Thing Goin'" with Terry McMillan is a greasy little number that gives the album something edgy. The honky tonk standard "D-R-U-N-K" is given fine treatment here by Coe and guest the late John Hartford, and Coe's own "Little Orphan Annie" is a ballad-turned-bluegrass orgy. In all, Tennessee Whiskey proved once again that no matter what the critics and programmers said or didn't, when he made records, he always showed up to play.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek