Album Review: Joe Nichols – It’s All Good
A popular compliment for particularly talented artists is the old line about singing the alphabet: Armed with enough talent and charisma, some singers could make it all the way from A to Z and still aptly hold the attention of their fans.
Joe Nichols is certainly one of those vocalists, possessing a set of pipes both as impressive and understated as neo-traditional forefathers Keith Whitley, Alan Jackson and George Strait. But when an artist’s song selection becomes as predictable and one-note as that preschool staple, that blind appeal begins to chip away.
Both sides of that coin are present on Nichols’ new album It’s All Good, a lean offering of ten new songs and his first studio album since 2009. A classic example of a headphone record, Nichols’ smooth, rich voice and the sweet strains of steel guitar are presented in a quiet, understated collection of sleepy songs that demand a closer look. The nuance on this record becomes especially important amidst a monotonous pick of storylines and production choices, as charming as they may be.
The album’s slowest moments cover much of the same tired territory. “The More I Look,” in the weathered barfly stylings of Toby Keith, and the aw-shucks “This Ole Boy” are pleasant-sounding retreads, while lead-off single “Take It Off” is fun but forgettable. These tunes crowd lyrics into tight spaces, and rely on convention over content.
But in his sweet spot – when sonic form and lyrical function equal each other – Nichols shines: standout track “Somebody’s Mama” matches its singer’s talent with an attention-grabbing opening narrative that morphs into a bittersweet twist on its title. Similarly, “Never Gonna Get Enough” recalls George Jones’ “Tennessee Whiskey,” detailing a love that reaches the highs of the hard stuff with none of the hangover, and the title track “It’s All Good” quietly works. It sounds like it may have narrowly escaped the clutches of Strait, with Nichols easily making it his own with steel guitar and a gritty grin.
However, that in-the-pocket simplicity is also a double-edged sword: There’s not a huge gulf between the good and bad, with quite a bit of middling and meh in between. In the end, It’s All Good is a pleasant album by a talented artist, where everything sounds good but nothing stands out.
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