A greatest hits collection released earlier this year helped remind country fans that Joe Nichols has been producing hits for a good decade now. While the sound of country has become much more pop and rock oriented since Nichols started, he has stayed relatively true to the traditionalist sound. While it hasn't always garnered him consistent chart-topping smash hits, it has given him a sizable fanbase - count George Jones and Merle Haggard among his admirers.
"It's All Good," his first album of all new material since 2009, starts off slow with the weakest tracks. Take It Off, the opening song, is a close cousin to Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off, but while it has more urgency than the former, it loses much of the goofball charm. The More I Look has Nichols wanting to "hold that rockin' body close to mine." That line might not be out of place in a Luke Bryan song, but Nichols should be setting his sights higher.
After that, however, the album evens out into a nice mid-tempo groove. Nichols has a phone book voice (he could sing it and make it sound good), and when given some choice songs, it's a formidable combination. Somebody's Mama and No Truck, No Boat, No Girl are two of the best with Nichols conveying sadness and wistfulness while still keeping toes tapping.
Like Alan Jackson, Nichols is able to take a song that looks hokey on paper, such as the title track, and make it work by sheer charm. Fortunately, he and producers Buddy Cannon and Mark Wright have chosen some strong material, including a stunning ballad, How I Wanna Go, that nicely serves as an epitaph for a life well lived.
With so many of today's male country singers beefing up their sound with loud, angry-sounding Southern rock, it's almost quaint to hear Nichols singing these mellow, laid-back tunes. Rather than sounding like an old-fashioned throwback, "It's All Good" serves as a reminder that there needs to be a place for traditional sounds in today's country music, particularly when it's this pleasing to the ear.