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Billy Ray Cyrus

Trail of Tears – 1996 (Mercury)

Reviewed by Dan Kuchar

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CDs by Billy Ray Cyrus

Fame and success are double-edged swords. Billy Ray Cyrus knows that as well as anyone. His 1992 hit "Achy Breaky Heart" was one of the most successful records of all time. While its wild success was what every performer dreams of, its relentless play on radio, nightclubs and video made the backlash inevitable.

His rebellious non-hat image and heart-throb status further undermined his ability to be taken seriously by the country music culture. His new release is a valiant effort to shed himself of his Achy Breaky stigma. Cyrus takes risks. For openers, a few songs exceed five minutes in length, putting them in radio no-man's land.

The album breaks new ground. Well, it's new ground for Cyrus. The title cut is a bluesy holler reminiscent of Jimmy Rogers. Cyrus sings a litany of protests against the injustices done to somebody but never clues us in to who that somebody is.

Lyrically, Cyrus and his co-writers' material (he wrote or co-wrote 7 of the 11 songs and also co-produced) ranges from masterful ("Truth is I Lied") to mediocre ("Call Me Daddy"), strong conceptually, but failing to avoid many of the well-worn lyrical cliches (blue/you).

Overall, though, Cyrus and his band are successful at carving out a definitivenew sound. It's much more acoustic than any previous efforts with mandolin, flat top guitar and slide guitar dominating. A swampy bluesy attitude is evident throughout. There are some departures: Merle Haggard's "Sing Me Back Home" and Jeannie C. Riley's "Harper Valley PTA," which gets a kind of achy-breaky makeover. Cyrus' covers don't improve upon the originals, but don't pale next to them either. Cyrus showed they are quite capable of using spare, pared-back arrangements as their canvas. However, they still have quite a bit to learn about using brushes and paint.