Album Review: Ronnie Milsap — Country Again
The trail of Ronnie Milsap’s 40 number one hits trail only George Strait and Conway Twitty. Back in the 70’s and early 80’s, the radio dial was filled with dozens of country crossover hits sung by the piano man. Since then, longtime country fans have been transported back to those days each time a Milsap song finagles its way into the public consciousness. With Milsap’s new album of all new material called Country Again, the listener doesn’t need to think back to those great songs of a bygone era: Milsap has handed over the keys to the mental time machine all by himself with choices in production and songs.
PR on the album has said that Milsap has returned to his roots on this album–that’s an understatement. For the better part of the project, comparisons to his early work are everywhere. “A Better Word of Love” heavily reminds of his soft tender ballads like “Stranger Things Have Happened.” “If You Don’t Want Me To (The Freeze)” opens up like the 1980s television series Bosom Buddies theme song before bringing in some Phillip Bailey-ish background vocals. The Jordanaires backed Milsap on “Daydreams About Night Things” back in the day and he uses a similar chorus backing on “You’re The Reason I’m Living.” The doo-wop backing vocals on “Fireworks” are early 80’s pop-country gold. There is his trademark piano throughout the album, a vintage horn section on “Oh Linda,” and prominent steel guitar that’s just not prevalent in the lion’s share of today’s country on “Cry Cry Darling” and “Even Fools Get Lucky.” Even the cover artwork & liner notes scream nostalgia with Milsap dressed in a Nudie-style outfit and sunglasses that look like they match Michael Jackson’s rhinestone glove.
It is probably appropriate then, that the title track and most unique song on the album, “Country Again,” is a story-song of a redneck time machine. While slightly uneven with stops and starts, the song tells the tale of how a souped-up pick-up takes the protagonist to the future. He comes back and has brought back a recording of the music from the future. It’s classic country gold, and as a result, everything will be okay. The choice of song is interesting considering Milsap was one of the bigger crossover pop-country artists of his time.
Outside of that title track, nearly every song is themed in universal themes of love won or lost. Classic Milsap had some phenomenal lyrical twists on these themes with such songs as “Nobody Likes Sad Songs” and “Daydreams about Night Things.” On Country Again, the topic of love is missing those additional hooks to make it stand out as well. In addition, too many of the songs feel like they’re cut from the same plodding metrics and they blend together a bit.
Whether you like this album or not probably hinges on how fondly you look back on Milsap’s earlier work. It digs up many memories and references to a time when Milsap was a fixture at the top of the music world. It makes a fun walk down memory lane–without having to climb in a time machine.
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