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Jamie Richards

Latest and Greatest – 2016 (Okie Ranch)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by Jamie Richards

The title should be taken literally, as more than half the tracks on this disc are recastings of favorites from Texas traditional country artist Jamie Richards' four previous releases along with five new tunes. If a quick scan of the song titles suggests a theme - "Last Call," "Whiskey Night," "I'm Not Drinkin'," "I'll Have Another" - it does indeed seem as if Richards has a penchant and flair for the time-honored and time-worn genre of honky-tonk drinking songs.

Rather than celebrating boozing for its own sake, though, in these tellings, the whiskey is a stand-in for lost love, and that's an approach that sold a lot of records for George Jones and others over the decades. Richards has a nice touch with these tunes, a sensitivity that makes for one of his strengths as an artist.

Perhaps the best example is "She's Cold As That Beer She's Drinking." Thirty years ago, in her version of John Hiatt's "Icy Blue Heart," Emmylou Harris sang, "His beer was warmer than the look in her eyes." Richards turns that image around slightly, and his tale is not so dark as Hiatt's, but it's a true-to-life story of a hardcore barfly looking for love on her own terms. "Second Hand Smoke," despite a title that hints of political correctness, muses similarly in lament for the woman whose memory lingers like a bitter cloud. Mixing love and alcohol in song can all too often turn out to be trite and clichéd, but Richards has a knack for making it work.

Richards is a honky-tonk veteran, and by recording this disc with his regular touring band, he gives a pretty good sampler of what it's like to sit and listen to him in your local roadhouse with a cold mug and a plate of hot wings. There's plenty of fiddle and pedal steel to go along with Richards' rich, drawling baritone on a remarkably consistent album from beginning to end.