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Billy Ray Cyrus

Thin Line – 2016 (Blue Cadillac)

Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh

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CDs by Billy Ray Cyrus

Originally conceived of as a project to honor his favorite songwriters and artists, Billy Ray Cyrus found his latest outing taking on a life of its own. Infused with plenty of classic country sentiments and songs written and made popular by artists like Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings, among many others, the record shimmers with the impact and influence of those same artists as Cyrus showcases the music that he loves while making it his own.

Joining Cyrus in this celebration of music are a solid "who's who" of guest stars from across a variety of genres. Country stalwart Shelby Lynne offers up harmony vocals throughout alongside Kenley Shea Holm while outlaw country heir Shooter Jennings makes a couple of appearances as well. Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry lends his signature sound on a few tracks while Bryan Adams, Deep Purple's Glenn Hughes, and Lee Roy Parnell lend their support as well. Cyrus' daughter Miley also shows up, making this a family affair.

The title track sets the tone, with Cyrus almost growling through his vocals as he sings of the delicate balance between ideas, Lynne's honeyed vocals providing a call and response vibe while his take on "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)" gets a fresh update with some rocking guitar riffs. Cyrus keeps things a bit more faithful on "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys," the warm fiddle trills providing the perfect accent while "Sunday Morning Coming Down" gets a fresh infusion of rock energy alongside the familiar lyric.

"Tulsa Time" brings things to the honky tonk and benefits from Perry's strong musicianship before Jennings steps in to guest on highlight "Killing the Blues." Jennings also joins Cyrus and Parnell on his father's classic, "I've Always Been Crazy" and it's a great match for Cyrus, his gravelly vocal tailor made for the track. "Hey Elvis" features Adams and Hughes, offering up a more contemporary flair that rocks while the familiar refrain of "Help Me Make it Through the Night" invites listeners to sing along.

Cyrus' original additions to the record stand strong for the most part, with the title track being the strongest while his "country cred" outing, "Hillbilly On," while fun, feels a bit contrived, particularly alongside this set of great songs. "Stop Pickin' On Willie" is much more successful, and "Hope (Let It Find You)" is a classic Cyrus ballad. Of special note is "Angels Protect This Home" where the artist is joined by his daughter Miley and delivers a track that is jarring, disjointed and equally compelling. It's an odd choice to include here, but is noteworthy for its sheer uniqueness.

Ultimately, "Thin Line" finds Cyrus accomplishing what he set out to do, honoring a collection of songwriters and artists who inspire him, offering up his own stamp and inspiration to the generation to come. And the end result is a solid, enjoyable listen.