Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
Jim Ed Brown never went out of style, and he proves it emphatically on this new album. Although this is his first solo album in 30 years, he's never been out of the spotlight, making frequent appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and reminding audiences with his smooth style of classic country music and his immediately recognizable voice that he's a master stylist.
Produced by Brown's old friend Don Cusic, who wrote 6 of the 13 songs, "In Style Again" ranges over almost every musical style from country ballad to jazz standard to waltz. Bobby Bare produced the title track, a Lance Miller and Austin Cunningham II-penned tune that is a mournful, tongue-in-cheek take on the state of contemporary country music: "like an old sharecropper's shack in need of painting/I can't pretend to be something that I ain't/I'd give my right arm if I could see that look in your eyes when you still believed in me/I'd like to be in style again someday/no one wants to feel like they've been thrown away/guess nothing lasts forever, but it hurts to be replaced/by a younger, fresher pretty face."
The Cusic-penned "Watching the World Walking By" is a jaunty tune that brings to mind Eddy Arnold, replete with Brown's whistling on the song's bridge. Brown's constant duet partner Helen Cornelius joins him on the old Jay Penny-penned chestnut "Don't Let Me Cross Over" and Chris Scruggs' golden steel guitar licks wind around the honeyed tones of the singers' voices. Brown shows his versatility on "Older Guy" a sensuous, sly jazz ballad just right for smoky lounges. In pensive voice, Brown reflects on the ups and downs of a life well-lived even with its shortcomings on "It's a Good Life": "it's a good life/ blessed in so many ways/it's a hard life/it's been tough some days/it's a sweet life that's come my way/it's a good life in so many ways/the best of life I've found in a song." The upbeat "Am I Still Country?" closes the album with an ironic, comic take on the question of what it really means to be called an authentic country musician these days.
In Style Again is a welcome addition to Brown's catalog, and on the strength of this album, let's hope it's not another 30 years before he delivers another album of new music to us.