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Joe Nichols

Man With A Memory – 2002 (Universal South)

Reviewed by Stuart Munro

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CDs by Joe Nichols

Joe Nichols is a young man and looks it, but his remarkable voice - canyon-deep and oak-barrel-aged sibilant - is anything but that of a young man. His equally remarkable Universal South debut is not the typical young man's country record coming out of Music Row these days, either; you'll find no wailing guitars, no cavernous drums, no rockin' country or power ballads here. What you will find is a thoroughly modern country record that incorporates both pop elements and traditional roots.

The roots show in the classic honky-tonk sound of "Brokenheartsville" (a killer title for a killer song) and in "Cool To Be A Fool" and the jazzy "You Can't Break The Fall," both of which swing in a way that owes no small debt to George Strait. There's a couple of off-beat traditionalist nods, too: the Roger Miller ontology of "Everything's A Thing" (one of three songs on the album that Nichols had a hand in writing) and a dawg music cover of Tom T. Hall's "Life Don't Have to Mean Nothing' At All." And even the pop elements - the record's first single, "The Impossible," for example, and the beautiful ache of the title track - owe a lot more to the likes of Keith Whitley and Don Williams than to today's avatars.

The sum is indelibly country, and another bit of succour for those who entertain the hope that Nashville has returned to making records that do more than simply cater to the dictates of radio demographics.