Album Review: Billy Ray Cyrus – Back to Tennessee
The cover of Back to Tennessee tells potential listeners all they need to know: here’s an album that’s all image and very little substance. With his artfully arranged bangs and carefully cultivated facial scruff, it appears as though Cyrus is desperately trying to remain hip, sexy, and most importantly, relevant among the non-Disney set. It’s not working.
Ignoring “Achy Breaky Heart,” Cyrus has delivered some good songs over the previous fifteen years. Remember “Busy Man,” “Some Gave All,” and “Could’ve Been Me”? Those were pretty solid commercial country singles. He’s also covered classics such as “Harper Valley PTA” and maintained a close enough friendship with Carl Perkins to speak at the legendary performer’s funeral, so Cyrus clearly knows what good music is. He just…chooses not to sing it here, apparently. When teen queen Miley Cyrus serves as a respite—and one of the album’s better tracks—something is wrong. “Butterfly” is a sweet (though treading dangerously close to “Butterfly Kisses” levels of saccharine) father-daughter duet, and it has Billy Ray toning down his faux rock star swagger, reminding us that he does indeed have a nice voice when he’s not shouting about what an awesome country boy he is.
And on this record, there’s a lot of instances where Billy Ray shouts about what an awesome country boy he is over a backdrop of generic bad rock music. In “Thrillbilly” he’s an awesome country boy who does awesome country boy things like shooting beer cans on fence posts and driving to his girlfriend’s house on a backhoe. The lame country-rock arrangement, plus insipid lyrics identifying the above actions as “down home style/Mixed with buck wild/So get on down and you’ll be proud of how you roll/That’s thrillbilly” make “Thrillbilly” very possibly the worst song of 2009 thus far. On “Country As Country Can Be,” Billy Ray is an awesome country boy who listens to George Jones and works hard (okay, those are legitimately awesome activities even if they aren’t the sole property of country boys), but his highlighted bangs on the album cover? Not country as country can be, unless he got ‘em at Truvy Jones’ beauty shop. Penned by Sheryl Crow and John Shanks, “Real Gone” is comparatively free of awesome country boy posturing, but its watered-down hair band sound would be better suited for a Bon Jovi record.
With those songs, it seems as though Billy Ray is trying to jump on the Aldean & Co. bandwagon of young and rowdy “country” “rockers.” Unfortunately the effect is vaguely pathetic, considering that Cyrus is pushing 50; the songs he uses in an attempt to create this image pale miserably in comparison to country rockers of his generation who can actually, well, rock, like Chris Knight and Joe Ely. When Cyrus sticks to more age-appropriate material, he’s far more successful in connecting with the lyric. “Somebody Said a Prayer” has Cyrus falling back to his gospel roots; it’s one of the few times—title track “Back to Tennessee” and “A Good Day” are others—in which Cyrus sounds like he believes what he’s singing and also sounds as though he fits the musical arrangement. Unfortunately the overall result of alternating decent New Country ballads and midtempo numbers with jarring bad rock causes the album to feel disjointed. He’d be better off picking a style and sticking with it.
If this is the material Billy Ray is choosing for his triumphant return to commercial country music, he’s better off sticking to children’s television or hoping that David Lynch needs him to reprise his Mulholland Drive role as Gene the poolboy. Even sitting through an episode of Doc is more enjoyable than listening to Back to Tennessee.
- Janice Brooks: Hopes somebody gets those memos about drinking songs. Meanwhile I'm feeling a lot of slots with Bluegrass.
- Leeann: Great news about Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White's duet album! Absolutely appalling about the Keith Urban concert!! Both the rape and …
- bob: I found the Billboard article about country music radio needing an alcohol intervention interesting. Songwriter Adam Wright is quoted as …
- Matt: Definitely agree with C.M. about Maddie & Tae. Certainly not the tidal wave of change some claimed it is or …
- Dave D.: Good stuff, as always. My copy of Producing Country arrived yesterday, and it looks to be as good as …
- Scooter: I agree Holly Williams can do no wrong in my eyes. Such a good album and great to see live …
- Carrie Mclaughlin: Your my Hero Mr. Jim Lauderdale!!! Come to Alaska Please? hehehehe
- Jeremy Dylan: You should check it out Dave D. It's from the first (and strongest) season.
- Leeann: Wow! I love that Holly William's cover of "No Surrender"! She's gotten to be so good.
- luckyoldsun: I made it through a minute of that "Girl In a Country Song Video." Man, that sucks.