George Strait, "Cold Beer Conversation" (MCA Nashville)
George Strait — the old-school, traditional, consistent, semi-retired Country Music Hall of Fame member — might be the last person anyone would expect to join the trend-conscious movement of stars dropping a completed album with no advanced notice.
The surprises don't end there. "Cold Beer Conversation" finds the Texas legend working with a new producer for the first time in 25 years. Chuck Ainlay has engineered Strait's albums for decades, but this time he sits in the producer's chair.
That said, "Cold Beer Conversation" is vintage Strait. He has such a strong vocal presence that even when he takes a left turn, as he often does, it still sounds like him.
Ainlay occasional gets too heavy-handed, tough. For example, the rowdy, drunken choir of voices on the chorus "Goin' Goin' Gone" is a Nashville cliche that clutters up an otherwise good song.
But the highlights prove that Strait remains at the top of his game: From the casual way he captures a meaningful talk between buddies on the title cut to the melodic intimacy of "Let It Go" to the jaunty swing of "It Takes All Kinds," the album adds another gem to one of country music's deepest, most entertaining catalogs.