McBride & the Ride,
Amarillo Sky
(Dualtone, 2002)

There needs to be a new rule for albums. Every song should be worthy of being a single. Filler could be banned, with punishments ranging from fines to torture. Those groups who argue an album can't exist without filler could be directed to McBride & the Ride's Amarillo Sky as contradictory evidence.

Not that there aren't standout songs on the album. "Leave Her With Me" sits on a fence between honky-tonk and the blue side of country, with questionable morals and undeniable charm. "Yours" is a long wedding vow set to a hymnal tune and should be cloying; instead, it achieves the flavor of earnest devotion such songs usually over sweeten. "Squeeze Box" is one of the great musical romps, and McBride does right by it with this slightly country version, and serves as a reminder that rock sure didn't start in ballrooms.

Amarillo Sky is a country album, but those who think country is all lamentation -- or all perky-voiced college girls -- will be thrown for a loop by the optimistic outlook and depth of emotion. The title song serves as a desperate farmer's prayer and shows the bleak landscape of his dreams in a few swift phrases. But it carries more determination than despair, and a suggestion of hope for the better. "Why Not Colorado" contains ample fodder for lovelorn moping, as a former lover prepares to take a vacation form his Texas heartache. But even that song is a hopeful, forward-looking acceptance of change, with more perspective than most people manage at the end of an affair.

And that's as blue as the album gets. "Sure Feels Like It" has the stunned happiness of things working out better than ever expected, backed by musical flourishes that play up the happy rush of new love. "Anything That Touches You" and "You Take My Heart There" both re-examine the peaceful, subtle workings of established romance, without losing the energy of the first meeting. A gentler acoustic sound gives "You Take My Heart There" a rambling, gentle attitude specially fitting to the daily pleasures of the song. There's an unlooked for exuberance in the lover's farewell "Hasta Luego," whose western feel summons the lure of wide open skies.

Between the addictive good spirit and the playfully catchy tunes, Amarillo Sky is one of the most companionable country albums I've come across. And it's a fine compromise album; people who think they hate country will find little to object to in folk and rockabilly musical styles, and people who like country can cackle as they make a new convert. But more importantly, it's an enjoyable album, not just a couple of good songs surrounded by grey noise. So I can put it on, take my hand off the "forward" button on my CD player, and start drafting that anti-filler law.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 26 July 2003

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