The Apple Music description of this album is unintentionally hilarious, citing it as “traditional country.” Why is this funny? Because in all my time using the service, I’ve never seen anything so specific labeling a country project: you get “country,” “Americana,” “folk,” “singer-songwriter,” and it’s the same in other genres. You don’t get specifics like “pop country,” “Red Dirt,” or “country rock.” I did see “traditional folk” on Shinyribs’ latest, but that’s arguably not even all that accurate, so I’m not sure that counts as specific. But this album is so unabashedly country that even the Apple Music people felt it should be called “traditional country.” And you know what? If there’s been any album in 2017 or really during all the time I’ve written here that deserves this classification, Music in my Heart qualifies. Forget genre-bending and trying to undefined country music; Charley Pride has made an album so undeniable and unapologetic in its countriness that even Apple Music recognizes it and wants to make sure you’re entirely aware that this is different from Sam Hunt and all the others irresponsibly using the term to market music that is nowhere close to country at all and is more often than not crappy in its rightful genre as well.
That’s ultimately the strongest point of this record. There’s great Americana and pop country and Red Dirt, and we shouldn’t let genre solely dictate our musical tastes, but there’s something so inexplicably comforting about hearing fiddle and steel and three-chord arrangements that words just can’t express. If you’re a fan of country music, even if you’re not a purist–which I’m certainly not–you can’t help but listen to this album, with its shuffling rhythms and scandalous amounts of fiddle and steel, and be thankful that not everyone has forsaken this sound for Americana or some other blend of country. IN sound, this is country in its purest form, or at least in the purest form you’re going to get it in 2017.
But just because it’s country doesn’t mean it’s good, so let’s talk about the writing. I don’t think any one song is going to blow you away, but the lyrics are pretty strong throughout. It’s just as country in theme as it is in sound, featuring many songs about love and heartbreak. “New Patches” is a pretty clever take on a tried-and-true country theme, likening finding someone new to the inadvisable practice of sewing new patches on old garments. “All by my Lonesome” is another standout, and the copious amounts of fiddle here certainly help. “The Way it Was in ’51” is the only one that really deviates from these themes, and it’s one of the strongest songs on the record lyrically, really painting the pictures of that year well. But honestly, sometimes you don’t even pay attention to the lyrics because you’re so caught up in the sound.
Although not every song stands out, the universality in these songs does, and this relatability is the thing that Willie Nelson’s record lacked. That’s no criticism of Willie, but he reflected much on old age and the end of life, and at seventy-nine, Charley Pride could be doing the same. Again, no disrespect to Willie Nelson, or to Pride if/when he explores these subjects, but the songs of Music in my Heart are much more relatable and universal in theme, and that’s what ultimately was missing for me on God’s Problem Child. This is an album that I think will have considerably more mileage for younger listeners, and certainly for me.
There’s not much to criticize here, but the lack of variety thematically does start to make this run together a little in the middle of the record. There’s virtually no variety in tempo either, so that doesn’t really help matters. The closer and title track is really the only up-tempo track here, and it probably could have used a couple more earlier on the album to spice things up.
Overall, this is just a really comforting record. I don’t really know how else to put it. You aren’t going to be blown away lyrically, but there are still a lot of good songs. The highest point of the album, though, is that honest, three-chord country. I say all the time, “this isn’t the album to buy if you want fiddle and steel,” usually followed by praise of the album. But friends, this most certainly is the album to buy if you want fiddle and steel; you’ll have no shortage of them. I should also mention how good Charley Pride’s voice is at his age–I was admittedly a little amazed by that. This is not a flawless record, but it’s a good one, and one a lot of people will surely enjoy.