Veteran Texas artist Stoney LaRue has been through a lot in 20 years of touring and recording and puts that experience to good use on his first release since 2015's "Just Us." "Onward" enlists veteran Nashville producer and songwriter Gary Nicholson on production, and the result is a satisfying effort with the artist in fine voice on some of the best material of his career.
Nicholson writes or co-writes 10 songs, leading off with "Fallin' and Flyin'" originally included in the movie Crazy Heart, sung by Jeff Bridges; it seems personal and very appropriate. "You Oughta Know Me By Now," co-written especially for LaRue with Shawn Camp, has LaRue in a loping groove much like an early Don Williams or Amazing Rhythm Aces vibe with the singer in fine voice. On his tribute to Texas, LaRue gets personal and specific on "Hill Country Boogaloo," letting the listener know he has truly been there and not just name-checking the area.
"Drowning in Moonlight" shows LaRue shining while being vulnerable, nostalgic and stripped down to almost Bob Seger levels. Well-timed to coincide with her newfound renaissance, the duet with legend Tanya Tucker, "Meet Me In The Middle" is a gritty ode to relationship give and take hits the target, as does the retro tune "I Can't Help You Say Goodbye" which brings to mind Roseanne Cash's "I Couldn't Never Do Nothing Right.
Country blues aficionados will enjoy the Lee Roy Parnell-penned "Worry Be Gone," with tasteful accompaniment by Willie Nelson's harmonica virtuoso, Mickey Raphael, and the covers of Ed Bruce and Merle Haggard, "Evil Angel" and "Let's Chase Each Other Around The Room in which LaRue faithfully reinterprets the tunes while raising the tempo just a bit. The love song, "Thought You'd Want to Know" shows LaRue at home as a country crooner, and the surprising duet with Brandon Jenkins, "High Time," is a smooth a piece of country heaven that is rarely seen these days.
"Onward" shows LaRue coming off a bit of a recording hiatus at the top of his game. The effort is well-rounded and states the case well for acceptance in mainstream country, well beyond the confines that the Texas music label often evokes.