Joe Nichols

Old Things New – 2009 (Universal South)

Reviewed by Jessica Phillips

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CDs by Joe Nichols

Joe Nichols' life has taken some dramatic turns since the release of his last record, "Real Things." Ironically, the 2007 album's title was a perfect fit for this offering as those turns have led Nichols to record some of the most personal songs of his career. Nichols' whirlwind last few years included getting married, checking into an alcohol rehabilitation program, joining the cast of Broadway's "Pure Country" and becoming a spokesperson with The Hopeline, an organization that helps people struggling with alcohol addiction.

The album starts out with a duo of fairly run-of-the-mill tracks - Gimme That Girl and It's Me I'm Worried About. Nichols' rugged country voice can rival the best in the business, but he sometimes wastes it on substandard fare. Nichols quickly makes up for it with some tracks that balance of modern and traditional, like Believers and the nostalgic We All Go Home. Old Things New, is a punch in the gut to today's pop-country drizzle, and Nichols sings it with authority. His history of ditties takes a turn for the better with more substantial up-tempo tracks like The Shape I'm In, and a live version of Let's Get Drunk and Fight.

Nichols' recent victory inspires some of the album's highlights, most notably the intimate An Old Friend of Mine, which portrays a man taking his last drink before becoming sober. Nichols' transparent vocal recalls George Jones' biographical Choices. His slightly imperfect vocals recall a time when singers didn't use auto-tune - they just sang their hearts out. This is a must-listen. While newly sober, Nichols takes it in stride on the witty Cheaper Than a Shrink.

The only downfall here is the hip-hop version of his hit, Tequila with Colt Ford.