Joe Nichols,
Joe Nichols
(Intersound, 1996)

Joe Nichols has tapped into some sort of country-singer essence. He sounds the way you expect a country singer to sound, and in his self-titled album, he's managed to cover all the usual country themes. He may have used too much of a good thing.

The best songs on the album are the more fast-paced, carefree tunes. The sentimentality that weighs down some of the love songs is left behind and the guitar smokes in "Six of One (Half a Dozen of the Other)," chronicling the life of a ne'er-do-well who just can't make sense of the problems he keeps calling on himself. "Independent Girl" sounds like beach rock from the '60s with a twang. "Wal-Mart Parking Lot" is the mandatory proud country-boy song, and would sound right blasting out of a jukebox late on Friday night. It's interesting that Wal-Mart has replaced the church or bar as the town meeting area, even in a song about an isolated rural town. Nichols has perfectly captured the excessive pride often found in small town circles.

Unfortunately, the romantic side of life occupies more of the album and isn't handled as well. The breakup is represented in all its phases. While "Leave the Past Behind" has a very memorable chorus and some fine wailin' lyrics, "To Tell You the Truth" just slides off the mind. "Old Cheyenne" floats between a breakup song and a cowboy tune, with the dreamer who left his love behind dreaming now of what could have been. The lyrics are pretty, but the tune just doesn't distinguish itself.

Falling in love is one the great themes of all music, but the love songs here don't do much to set themselves apart. Two of the songs, "She Could Care Less" and "In Spite of Myself," paint the girlfriend as near perfect and the man as decidedly unworthy of such a gem. They're lyrically and musically too similar, making their pairing on the album an odd arrangement choice. It's no wonder the singer in "I Hate the Way I Love You" isn't happy about being in love, considering the self-denigration involved.

It's a shame there aren't more of the fast tunes and hard licks on Joe Nichols' album. When he's not in love or breaking up, Nichols is a downright fun singer. His more rocking tunes just can't balance the album against the weight of so many lonely-heart songs sounding so much alike. It's not a bad album, but there isn't enough variety thematically or musically to give it high replay ranking. If he can move away from the starry eyes and experiment more, Nichols could be great. This album, though, is just standard.

[ by Sarah Meador ]
Rambles: 2 November 2002

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