It Just Comes Natural
t’s now clear that George Strait’s last record, Somewhere Down In Texas was an incredibly rare misstep for the Texas titan and newly-inducted member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. While there was one gem tucked away on the album (a lovely cover of the 1974 Waylon Jennings song “The Seashores of Old Mexico,” sadly his first single to not hit the top 10 on the country chart since 2003), the rest of it seemed to imply that Strait had mislaid his golden gift for song-picking. Well, if he did in fact mislay it, he clearly found it before hitting the studio to record his latest.
There’s no Toby Keith-lite on It Just Comes Natural (“Texas Cookin’” is silly, but it’s to be expected that Strait will drop an ode to his home state on each album he releases these days), he’s just back to what he does best: sincerely singing sturdy, smooth ‘n’ twangy songs.
Really, plenty about both Strait and this album are summed up in its title. It Just Comes Natural is grammatically incorrect, to be sure, but it feels right, like an old flannel button-down. It’s the kind of phrase that people really say to each other, that left-coasters—or at least, the media’s idea of left-coasters—disdain but the residents of fly-over country understand. Even though he’s a multimillionaire, Strait’s never lost his knack for relating to his fans.
“How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls” is a case in point: Strait’s been happily married to his high-school sweetheart for around 35 years, yet this airy, steel-guitar-kissed ode to cowgirls sounds completely honest and believable coming from his golden throat. (It helps that the song’s not a Trace Adkins-esque lust-charged ode but a simple “Aren’t they great, aren’t they somethin’?” tribute.) No one evokes the wide-open spaces of the North American plains the way Strait does, and no one does it better, either. It’s his best single song since 2001’s “Run.”
This isn’t the best album of the year, or even of Strait’s career. But it is full of hummable tunes, produced expertly (as ever by Tony Bowen and Strait himself), and sung like no one else. There’s a few Western swing numbers, a couple of Texas two-steppers, some for close’n’slow dancin’, all soaked in, as Strait’s 1992 film dubbed it, pure country. It’s an album’s worth of country comfort food. Good contemporary country music—not pop-country—is a damned good thing, and Strait delivers. Like a good beef stew, this ain’t fancy, but it sure is filling.