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Neal McCoy

XII – 2012 (Blaster)

Reviewed by Sam Gazdziak

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CDs by Neal McCoy

After seven years without a studio album, Neal McCoy has been quite busy of late. First came a collaboration with jazz orchestra leader Les Brown Jr., and now comes his first country record since 2005's "That's Life." To help make his return, McCoy has enlisted dome big time players, in the form of producers Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton and Brent Rowan.

While McCoy was a reliable hitmaker in the '90s, he was most known for good-natured, novelty songs and an exciting live show. This new batch of songs doesn't stray too far from his proven formula, with the bulk of the songs being light-hearted and focused on fun. Some of them are among the best he's ever recorded.

The album kicks off with A-OK, which would have been a smash hit for McCoy back in the day. Between the whistled introduction and the positive, hopeful lyrics, it fits right along side his biggest hits, like Wink and The Shake. Mouth co-written by Jamey Johnson, and That's Just How She Gets, demonstrate that a funny song is only as good as the singer, and McCoy has a sly humor that enables him to pull them off easily.

For the most part, McCoy and his producers have chosen songs that fit his personality. The slower songs are a bit of a mixed bag. Every Fire shows he can handle a heartbreak song well, but Crazy Women throws around a few too many left-handed compliments toward the women in question. The closer, Van Gogh has a terrific pedigree - it was written by Tom Douglas and Allen Shamblin, who wrote The House That Built Me for Lambert - but it also ends the album on an unnecessary down note.

"XII," so named because it is McCoy's 12th studio album, is also his first on Blaster. It's not a particularly "heavy" album, but that was clearly never the intention, and it doesn't make McCoy a lightweight of a singer, either. His stock in trade has always been as an entertainer, and it's difficult to walk away from this album without a smile.