Joe Nichols – “Real Things”
Joe Nichols has been releasing records for about 10 years now and, after an abrupt start with Intersound Records, Joe received his real shot when Universal South opened their doors in 2001. Joe was their ‘flagship’ artist and released the wonderful ballad “The Impossible” and from there Joe’s had 7 top 10 hits and released 3 fine records (2 gold) before the release of his fifth proper album (He also has a mighty fine Christmas release too), “Real Things.” New label president Mark Wright and Joe’s long-time producer Brent Rowan helmed the project. While many might have expected “Real Things” to be chock full of “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” styled tracks to get both radio play and record sales, the album is instead a refreshingly more reserved, Merle-esque affair.
The title track leads off the record and immediately tells the listener that Joe Nicholsis a different kind of cat. He likes his country music and isn’t afraid to start his record off with a mid-tempo dobro and mandolin laced track while singing in a style that’s unique for a current radio star. It’s a song that makes a statement about living real, enjoying real things and just living life away from artificial stimulants. One doesn’t need to be high on drugs or alcohol to be high on life. Lead-off single “Another Side Of You” comes next and it has a lovely melody (full of steel guitar, fiddle and twangy electric guitar) that backs up Joe as he sings about the may facets of his lovely lady. While some songs have gotten ‘treacly’ when covering similar themes, Nichols just sounds down right romantic.
If there’s a strength to the songs recorded for “Real Things” it’s that Joe has gone to the well of familar writers, not ones who are recorded by every artist in town but those who are familar names because they are or were recording artists in their own right. Billy Dean, Clint Daniels, John Wiggins, Jamey Johnson, Scotty Emerick, Aaron Lines, Mark Nesler and Jeffrey Steele are just some of the co-writers on the record. While many would expect a rockin’ track from the pen of Steele, his “My Whiskey Years” is a tear-jerker in the truest sense of the word. It may have some more modern production values in parts of the song but for the most part Joe just sings the lyric over rolling honky tonk pianos and cryin’ steel guitar. Joe adds a few fun songs to the record to help balance the whole thing out with Aaron Lines’ “Let’s Get Drunk And Fight” (which is on his own Canada-released record as well) being the best of the lot.
There are a few other previously recorded tracks as well. Collin Raye’s last major label single was the mighty fine “Ain’t Nobody Gonna Take That From Me” and Joe’s own rendition of the song is great as well. The song is about a guy who takes the moments in his life and cherishes each of them. Jamey Johnson had his own fine rendition of “She’s All Lady” but since RCA seemed to not have any interest in promoting it as a single I am glad that Joe recorded it and could possibly release it as a single. Joe closes out the record with “If I Could Only Fly.” A Blaze Foley gem previously recorded by Merle Haggard, the song is one of those lyrical gems that also allows for a versatile vocalist to showcase their voice. The lovely Lee Ann Womack provides harmony vocals on the song as well.
If you like traditional country music and don’t often like the mainstream stuff favored by radio then Joe Nichols is one of a few “hit makers” that you should champion. He’s keeping the torch alive on a record that’s worth hearin’ over and over again.