‘Honky Tonk Time Machine’ becomes another Strait classic

Illustration by Lindsay Lang

By Ryan Reichard, Arts and Entertainment editor.

George Strait is the undisputed “king of country,” having delivered consistent and transformative albums for the better part of the last forty years. In that time, he has delivered classic country hits such as: “Run,” “Living for the Night,” “Check Yes or No,” “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” and “Amarillo By Morning.” Now around 40 years into his career and on his thirtieth album, George Strait delivers another classic with his latest release “Honky Tonk Time Machine.”

What makes this album truly shine is the traditional country production that has become a staple across Strait albums. Thanks to the album’s producers, Strait and Chuck Ainlay, many of the songs feature traditional country music elements such as pedal steel, acoustic guitars and fiddle. One of the best examples of traditional country music elements is on the soon-to-be classic “God and Country Music.” The song opens with soft piano keys, plucks on a gentle acoustic guitar and a soft drum beat, all balanced by touches of a steel guitar. The classic elements of “God and Country Music” allow it to become timeless, transcending eras to belong on any Strait album.

On “Some Nights,” Strait takes a step in the future, blending an old school sound with an updated production. “Some Nights” takes traditional steel guitar and adds a standard drum machine. The two blend surprisingly well, showcasing that Strait knows how to handle new country music elements better than most of the country artists on the radio today.

The production across “Honky Tonk Time Machine” allows Strait’s twangy vocals to take center stage where they belong. “The Weight of the Badge” is a prime example of this. The stripped-back production of a lonely acoustic guitar allows Strait’s experienced voice to convey the worn resilience in an ode to the members who protect and serve this country. In “Sometimes Love,” the bare minimum production and opening lack of instruments allows Strait’s weighted voice to maintain an emotional quality. Most of “Honkey Tonk Time Machine” benefits from the vocal layering Strait and Ainlay use in the production. The multiple layers of Strait’s voice add to the depth and power many of the songs need to convey the message of the lyrics.

The themes explored in the lyrics (religion, love, heartbreak and heroism) have become standards that have lined Strait’s albums for the bulk of his career. “Some Nights” was co-written by Strait’s son Bubba Strait, country singer Brice Lone and Phillip White. “Some Nights” explores heartbreak and the aftermath with the lyrics “Some days, I don’t wanna get up/ I just wanna give up/ And don’t even get me started on some nights.” In his account, Strait reflects on the day to day struggles that ensue after he has become heartbroken. While not overly complicated, it is the simplicity in the lyrics that make “Some Nights” a standout track.

In the closing song on “Honky Tonk Time Machine,” Strait finally pairs with fellow country music legend Willie Nelson on a one-of-a-kind duet. Both musicians reflect in a humorous, conversational style the reasons they have never been able to collaborate until now. In the final verse, the two legends finally come together singing “Look at me now, I’m singing with Willie / Thank you, man, you just made my career/ Well, you shoulda said somethin’, Strait / I always thought we would sound great.” Once again, the lyrics are not overdone, which, in turn, allows for the earnestness of the song to beautifully shine.

Overall, I would give “Honky Tonk Time Machine” four out of five stars and a definite recommendation. “Honky Tonk Time Machine” showcases that forty years and thirtieth albums into his career, Strait is still on top of his game to create another “time”less classic.

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