Don Henley, "Cass County" (Capitol)
On his first solo album in 15 years, Don Henley extends the polished, soulful take on country music initially heard on the Eagles hits "Best of My Love" and "Wasted Time." To his credit, he doesn't attempt to out-posture, or out-rock, contemporary country artists such as Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan. Instead, he creates the kind of country music that fans of the Eagles, and of traditional country music, can embrace.
Steel guitar rates as the album's most prominent instrument, and fiddles and mandolins surface nearly as frequently. The old-school instruments fit Henley's songs: Stripped to an elegant simplicity, the arrangements match Henley's attitude, which wavers between wistful and hopeful, fighting off a jaded view on such stone-country tunes as "The Cost of Living," a duet with Merle Haggard.
Henley invites plenty of guests to "Cass Country": Mick Jagger and Miranda Lambert take verses on the old-fashioned original "Bramble Rose"; Martina McBride proves to be a passionate duet partner on "That Old Flame"; and Dolly Parton harmonizes with heart-tugging emotion on the Louvin Brothers' "When I Stop Dreaming."
Generous at 16 tracks, and consistent in how he connects his world-weary originals with well-chosen covers, Henley proves that this longtime rock star — originally from small-town Texas — can go home again.