Album Review: Billy Ray Cyrus – Back to Tennessee

Juli Thanki | April 6th, 2009

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.

2 Stars

  1. Leeann
    April 6, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    When I read your name on the byline of this BRC review, I knew I was in for a treat.

    Billy Ray does have some good songs, as you’ve said, with “Trail of Tears” being my favorite.

    I don’t think I’ll be picking this one up though.

  2. Nicolas
    April 6, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    I think I’m gonna get this when it comes out tomorrow =)

    “Somebody Said a Prayer” is sooooo good <3 I luv that song

  3. Razor X
    April 6, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Last night’s blatant self-promotion while introducing his daughter was really cheesy, even for Billy Ray.

    The only song he ever released that I liked was “Busy Man”.

  4. stewman
    April 6, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Dug “Words by Heart” when it came out.

  5. Rick
    April 6, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    Juli, I don’t know how album reviews get assigned at The 9513, so can we assume you drew the short straw? (lol)

    Apart from Achy Breaky madness Billy Ray has always been a second (or third) tier mainstream country artist. Even if he was just hoping to get back to that level it sounds like this album won’t be the springboard to do it. Once Hannah Montana stops shooting after one more season Billy Ray will slip quietly back into relative obscurity….

  6. idlewildsouth
    April 6, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    Billy Ray is one of those people I really want to like, but he never really lets that happen. I love “Coulda Been Me”, “Words By Heart”, and “Ready Set Dont Go” is a bit of a guilty pleasure as well.

  7. Baron Lane
    April 6, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    you guys are really gluttons for punishment aren’t you?

  8. Juli
    April 6, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Juli, I don’t know how album reviews get assigned at The 9513, so can we assume you drew the short straw? (lol)

    Ha! Well, since I also got to review Buddy and Julie Miller as well as Dailey & Vincent, it’s only fair that I get a stinker like BRC.

  9. Jaime
    April 6, 2009 at 9:18 pm

    I loved the Truvy Jones “Steel Magnolias” reference. I can only imagine what Weezer would have to say about Billy Ray’s manscaping… lol

  10. Mayor Jobob
    April 7, 2009 at 12:06 am

    Miley Cyrus owns him

  11. Gloria
    April 7, 2009 at 11:57 am

    I have never been able to stand Billy Ray and now it’s even worse! I almost gagged when he promoted his album right up there on the stage at the ACMs! Is he trying to become Keith Urban or something?

  12. James
    April 7, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    Hey RICK & Everybody…I have been a MAJOR Billy Ray fan for a long time because I REALIZED ACHY BREAKY pigeon holed a guy who ACTUALLY is A FIRST RATE COUNTRY ROCK BLUEGRASS GOSPEL VOCALIST & SONGWRITER(11 albums now)….much better than probably MORE THAN HALF HIS PEERS that have come out in the last 20 years….as far as him giving a quick PROMOTION ON THE ACM’s….he MORE THAN DESERVES THAT, as they have SNUBBED HIM for WAY TOO LONG(i thought it was funny)…………WITH ALL THAT BEING SAID…..I AGREE WITH SOME OF THESE POSTS…THIS ALBUM IS A HUGE DISSAPOINTMENT…..he definitely has given in to the GENERIC NASHVILLE CRAP THAT IS being peddled these days…this junk other than the title track “BACK TO TENN.”(which he wrote),”SOMEBODY SAID A PRAYER”(he sings his *ss off), and maybe another song(not even sure which, as the songs are pretty weak) sounds like a cross between KENNY CHESNEY, MONT. GENTRY & RASCAL FLATTS…………WHAT A TIRED FORMULA……..IN A NUTSHELL THIS ALBUM HAS ONE BIG PROBLEM……HE USED NASHVILLE……….YOU SEE, BILLY MAKES GREAT ALBUMS WHEN HE DOES THEM ON HIS OWN, WITH HIS BAND, SLYDOG…….FOR PROOF CHECK OUT “TRAIL OF TEARS”, HIS 2003 COUNTRY GOSPEL ALBUM “THE OTHER SIDE”, 2006 ALBUM “WANNA BE YOUR JOE” AND DEFINITELY HIS FIRST 3 ALBUMS!!!! And BILLY shouldn’t be singing these watered down songs about being young….leave those to wanna bees like JASON ALDEAN……Billy Ray sure had a chance to do something GREAT here with this album but when I heard who produced it AND of course being on the DISNEY label, I kinda knew what to expect, he is trying too hard to be respected and fit in……FINALLY, if he gets back to basics on next album and really HAS SOMETHING TO SAY, he can make a great artistic statement and start heading into JOHNNY CASH territory or even his late buddy WAYLON JENNINGS, like they did in thier later years. Peace!!!

  13. James
    April 7, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    ACTUALLY, SORRY BUT ONE MORE THING…I guess we should not forget that great artists are supposed to be able to interpret great songs, which BRC can do…BUT most of these AREN’T great songs and I sure wouldn’t want to interpret them. AND BY THE WAY, JULI…THANKS FOR AT LEAST GIVING BRC A REVIEW AND AN HONEST ONE AT THAT!!!

  14. James
    April 7, 2009 at 5:32 pm


  15. Nicolas
    April 7, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    I picked this album up today, its good =) I like it

  16. Jaime
    April 7, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    CAPITAL LETTERS = Geez, James, you don’t have to yell… lol

  17. Awsome Country Boy
    April 8, 2009 at 8:38 am

    HAAAAHAHAHAHAHAAAA, Cyrus has fans … stop it. If you want a good album, skip this drivvle and pick up Eric Church’s “Carolina”.

    How can one take this man as a serious artist when he has prettier hair than the karaoke contest winner…errrr, American Idol legend Carrie Underwood?

  18. James
    April 8, 2009 at 3:51 pm


  19. Chris N.
    April 8, 2009 at 3:55 pm


  20. J.R. Journey
    April 8, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    “…the artist Billy Ray used to be” Now that’s funny.

  21. Mike Parker
    April 8, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    I’ve enjoyed several of Billy Ray’s songs over his career, but he consistently puts out far more garbage than he does gold.

  22. Awesome Country Boy
    April 8, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    James, you’re HI-larious. I guess I misplaced the memo, but when was Billy Ray good? Was it when he cut the EPIC song Achybreakyheart? When he was an Emmy contender on the TV classic Doc?

    The only thing Billy did right was have a daughter and ride her like the billion dollar quarter horse that she is.

    By the way, which do you prefere – Billy Ray with super mullet or Billy Ray sporting an Emo-light hairdo?

    PS- His music still stinks.

  23. James
    April 8, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    Just Kidding Awesome Country Boy…Eric is a “Top Notch Awesome Country Outlaw soon 2B legendary Songwriter & Vocalist” in the vein of Johnny Cash & Waylon Jennings, he has CONQURED the music world with his 2 albums and he is just getting started, as far as Billy Ray is concerned check out his FIRST 4 albums especially STORM IN THE HEARTLAND(an aggressive COUNTRY OUTLAW album for the 1990’s) & TRAIL OF TEARS, U will LOVE THEM….and folks…I will stop yelling with BIG LETTERS…did not mean to offend anyone…PEACE!!!

  24. Mike Parker
    April 8, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    I’m having trouble controlling THE VOLUME OF MY VOICE.

  25. Steve Harvey
    April 8, 2009 at 9:44 pm


  26. Sonny Styles
    April 9, 2009 at 9:12 am

    First let me say I was prepared for another frustrated musician’s critique based on jaded envy, but I was pleasantly surprised at the knowledgable assessment of this record.

    Having seen Billy’s performance on Regis I was impressed with his new hit, ‘Back To Tennessee’, and decided to read a review. I’m rarely grabbed by new songs, certainly not ones by Billy Ray, however this one got my attention. And you were right, he sings it with some conviction. I suspect it will be a big hit and possibly get some CMA nods.

    Sonny Styles,

  27. Drew
    April 9, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    Just listened to this… and I’m surprised it even got 2 stars. Very, very weak… a big letdown after his last album which I actually liked.

  28. Patrick
    April 10, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Great mix of country and southern rock on this album. “Back to Tennessee,” the title track which BRC wrote is the best of the group. Powerful vocals, great lyrics, and great music to go with it. Some other standouts are “A Good Day” and “Give It To Somebody.” Ignore this review… go pick up the album and make up your own mind. I think it’s the best country album since Carrie Underwood’s “Carnival Ride” album, which was also produced by Mark Bright.

  29. Dude
    April 23, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Terrible album, it sounds like they are trying to use the cyrus name to his advantage, it’s not working.
    And James, on many other forums, we have names for people like you
    that name is noob
    Definition of Noob – annoying people, they never know the forum rules, nor respect anybody on the forum, make a million post about the same thing, say things, see the reaction, then take it back and call it a joke, and have no will to learn how to be better in a forum. In otherwords, they are obnoxious. Good day to you all

  30. James
    April 24, 2009 at 9:45 pm

    DUDE….I know it’s GREAT, isn’t it? Whatever, like you know everything and your post is the BE ALL TO END ALL…OF ALL POSTS!!!

  31. stormy
    April 24, 2009 at 10:27 pm

    Dude: You’re right. He totally should have released this cd under the name Billy Ray Montana.

Tagged In This Article

// //

Current Discussion

  • Paige: Oh damn. :( I never commented here and I haven't been listening to any music at all since Thanksgiving (it …
  • Dave W.: Just read the news here. Will miss E145 very much - love this site. All the best to you Juli …
  • Leeann Ward: Oh, dang! This is real. Farewell to the most generous, informative, quality, intelligent, consistent, ethical country music blog! You …
  • bll: Thanks Juli for all the great articles and information; you'll be missed by me and I suss several others. Best …
  • Both Kinds of Music: I hope people appreciate the irony that one of the best "Americana" albums is titled Metamodern Sounds in COUNTRY Music.
  • Barry Mazor: I would not rule out that possibility..There's a different set of voters involved..
  • Dana M: Does anyone else think that Brandy Clark actually has a good chance of winning since this isn't a country awards …
  • Juli Thanki: UPDATE: Brandy Clark got a Best New Artist nom. BEST AMERICANA ALBUM: Rosanne Cash -- The River & The Thread John Hiatt -- Terms …
  • luckyoldsun: Glenn Campbell is great and I'd love to see him get an award, but the words of that song may …
  • Casey Penn: Juli, it was an honor to write for you here on You're good at what you do, and The …

Recently Reviewed Albums

  • walkerandthetexasdangers3
  • deadmanstown
  • tom t hall storytellers
  • paulthorntooblessed
  • duhksbeyondtheblue
  • kelleymickwee
  • sandrarhodes
  • candi staton