George Strait rode off into the sunset in 2014, retreating from the road via an uncharacteristically well-hyped two-year farewell. Strait may have hung up his touring boots but he didn't retire, so his re-emergence in the fall of 2015 with the sudden release of a brand-new studio album called Cold Beer Conversation accompanied by a Las Vegas residency shouldn't be a surprise: he never said he'd stop singing. Appropriately, Cold Beer Conversation feels like a continuation, another reliable record arriving right on schedule, just two years after the last.
In case any of us had forgotten, George Strait is probably the greatest living country singer, something that he reminds us of on this latest LP, a collection of songs that finds the legendary performing tinging his classic style of country with a dash or two of the contemporary but never losing sight of what has made him great: his ability to move listeners. Time and again, “moving” is the best way to describe the 13 songs found on Cold Beer Conversation. Perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise, given Strait’s track record, but music history is littered with others who have lost the plot, and it’s more than refreshing to hear someone sound as brand-new today as they did more than 30 years ago.
It’s easy to complain about the dearth of classic soul music being made these days. And it’s true — contemporary R&B has all but abandoned the gestures of the 1960s and ’70s, and even its adult contemporary wing owes more to denuded smooth jazz than to vintage soul’s punchy lust. Classic soul isn’t dead, though — it’s just hiding out in country music, in the songs made by elders who’ve sandpapered their rough edges to reveal the heartbreakers and heartbroken underneath.