Black Music Matters Festival

Billy Ray Cyrus

Cover to Cover: The Best of Billy Ray Cyrus – 1997 (Mercury)

Reviewed by Jon Johnson

It hardly seems like five years have passed since the annoyingly catchy "Achy Breaky Heart" first hit the airwaves and after four albums the time seems right to evaluate the first half-decade of Cyrus's recording career. This collects nine songs and adds three new tracks. Of the new material, "Bluegrass State of Mind" probably comes the closest to traditional country with some fine fiddle and mandolin work. Like "Trail of Tears," the title track from his last album (included here), he puts the song across simply and effectively, managing to avoid the rock-influenced histronics that make his albums anathema to more traditionally-minded country fans.

And that's a problem with evaluating Cyrus's work in a fair manner, perhaps. In looking back, it's hard to understand why the man chose to make his career in country music when so much of his musical vocabulary comes from rock. Cyrus can sing country straight when he wants to ("She's Not Crying Anymore" from 1992's "Some Gave All"), but so can Mick Jagger. Much of Cyrus's catalog could have been slipped into rotation at any rock radio station in America in 1984 without anyone batting an eye. The new "It's All the Same to Me" sounds like mid-'80's Springsteen covering "Every Breath You Take." Likewise, "Words By Heart" and "In the Heart of a Woman" (both from 1993's "It Won't Be the Last") leave a listener with a vague urge to hear "St. Elmo's Fire" for some reason. This is not likely to change anyone's minds about Billy Ray Cyrus, but it should provide a good starting point for anyone who's only recently heard him.