Music Reviews: Second only to the king

Troubadour – George Strait
Since his debut in 1981, George Strait has sold more than 62 million records. With 32 different platinum or multi-platinum albums, he’s earned the second most certifications of any artist in any genre, following only Elvis Presley.

This brand-new CD from Strait had a historic first single. The powerful “I Saw God Today” debuted higher on the charts than any other in the Texan’s illustrious career – at No. 19 on the R&R and Billboard radio charts when it was released in February. When contacted with this news, the 55-year-old legend said, “Wow, let me just say a huge thank you to country radio! I love you guys.” The new 12-track album brings about some notable collaborations, including a duet with the great Patty Loveless, and longtime songwriting partner Dean Dillon goes to work on this album to good effect. A-

Sounds So Good – Ashton Shepherd
If you like country – and we ain’t just talking about the music – you’ll love Leroy, Ala., newcomer Ashton Shepherd. This sexy, sensational Bama gal is as country as it comes, singing “There ain’t nothin’ like the sound of a cooler slushin’ on the bed of your truck” on the title track and “I’ve got a baby at home” on “I Ain’t Dead Yet.” Oh, and let’s not forget the fantastic first words on her debut single, “Takin’ Off This Pain,” which begins “I got a cold beer in my right hand, in my left I got my wedding band.”

“This is what I was born to do,” says Shepherd, 21, in her honey-smooth Southern accent. “I’ve always been singing, but it didn’t come from me. I didn’t just teach myself to sing. I’ve always sung. The songwriting is the same. As soon as I was big enough to write on paper, I was coming up with stuff. I’ve got notebooks where I was writing down songs when I couldn’t even spell correctly, from the time I was 5 years old.” She adds, “My husband’s family farms produce, so we stay busy with that. When the folks in Nashville asked what I’d been doing lately, I told them, ‘I’ve been picking peas in the morning and picking guitars at night.'” And by all accounts she does the former just as well as the latter – very well indeed. A

My Life’s Been a Country Song – Chris Cagle
Baytown, Texas, singer Chris Cagle first hit it big on the country charts back in 2000 with “My Love Goes On and On,” from the gold debut disc Play It Loud. He went on to release the other hits “Laredo,” “Chicks Dig It,” and “I Breathe In, I Breathe Out.” There aren’t many in Music City who can put passion and energy onstage or on record the way Cagle can.

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The singer and his fans (known as Cagle Heads) were ready for the likable crooner to get back on the charts. This new Scott Hendricks (Faith Hill)-produced CD delivers one heckuva debut single, “What Kinda Gone.” Using music to deal with life is something Cagle, 39, has been doing since his boyhood. He grew up in tough circumstances outside Houston, and one method of dealing with hard times would stay with him. “When things got bad around the house, I’d put on my headphones, and I was at least able to get away from it for a while,” Cagle says. “Music was my refuge.” A tough song made good on this new project is “It’s Good to Be Back.” B+

My Next Life – Terri Clark
Sometimes you just need a clean slate. So when platinum-selling hitmaker Terri Clark signed with BNA Records two years ago, she knew her music would be a little different. The long, tall, behatted Albertan has already released two radio singles from this CD, “Dirty Girl” and “In My Next Life” – both had lukewarm results on country radio.

The songwriters for “Dirty Girl” originally wrote the song for a guy. “The first time I heard it, it really caught me,” Clark, 39, says. “I loved the melody, I loved the music, but it was a guy singing to a girl, saying, you know, ‘I like it when you get a little dirty girl, I like it when you get cleaned up on Sundays.’ So I took it home, started messing around with it, and reworked it.” Canadian country radio has already propelled “In My Next Life” to No. 1. Clark co-wrote the song, which is still climbing in the States. C+