Picks and Pans Review: George Strait

UPDATED 07/11/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/11/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

Somewhere Down in Texas
COUNTRY
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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As befits his elder statesman status, George Strait goes so far as to suggest on one ingenious song off this terrifically enjoyable disc that we'd be better off "If the Whole World Was a Honky Tonk": "Wouldn't need no lawyers to decide who is wrong and who is right/ No need for big expensive trials/ Brother, we'd just step outside." The singer, who has been recording since 1981, contemplates his eventual retirement on the title tune, and he further salutes his home state on "Texas": "Fort Worth would never cross my mind/ There'd be no Austin city limit sign/ No lone star of any kind/ If it wasn't for Texas." Sounding more and more like Merle Haggard as his voice deepens, Strait can still get romantic on "High Tone Woman" and even "She Let Herself Go," which rises above its dismissive title to show empathy for a jilted woman. With the esteemed Tony Brown coproducing, he envelops the album in the kind of calm warmth that he is especially skilled at generating. And he brings in Lee Ann Womack for the cozy duet "Good News, Bad News." Not everyone, of course, can call on Womack and expect her to come, but few singers have so consistently earned respect as Strait. At this point, he's one of those 800-lb. armadillos who can do pretty much whatever he wants.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "If the Whole World Was a Honky Tonk"

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