The heroes of Clint Black’s songs are young men in a hurry. On the million- selling Killin’ Time, Black’s 1989 debut disc, they were obsessed with making better men of themselves and walking away from failing romances when it looked like the jig was up. But more often than not they were merely traveling in circles, fraught with indecision.
Black says that his new effort, Put Yourself in My Shoes, checks in with the same traditional working-class male of Killin’ Time, and simply finds him ”further on down the road.” But it’s Black, recently named Male Vocalist of the Year by the Country Music Association, who’s in the biggest hurry, intent on proving himself the heir to Lefty Frizzell and Merle Haggard. That’s something this album, with its hard-country sound and neoclassicist view, goes a long way toward accomplishing.
And yet Black is an unmistakably modern writer. He knows that today’s country fan can fervently embrace Jimmy Buffett as well as Hank Williams, and so he offers up ”The Gulf of Mexico,” a song that weds a south-of-the-border rhythm to a tale of skewered romance. And he can concoct a big-band sound on the title track as easily as he can a perfect Western-swing number, ”One More Payment,” with its mocking steel guitar sniggering like the class bully. Black knows how to push the line. More than that, he is way ahead of the pack in defining a new image for American blue-collar males — men who are more introspective and communicative than their fathers were but by no means weak. In ”A Heart Like Mine,” the central character lays his emotions on the line, but only for a woman who’s willing to meet him halfway. He won’t be anyone’s patsy.
And then there’s the fellow who rambles through ”This Nightlife,” cruising the bars, unable to patch the holes in his day-to-day existence. The song’s hard-driving bluegrass sound and scampering fiddle echo the heartbeat of a man who’s always on the run, trying to find and escape himself at the same time. In the old honky-tonk style, such vulnerability would never have been admitted. The tension inherent in this subject matter is probably good for a whole new chapter in country music — which Black, it seems, is ready to write. A
Put Yourself in My Shoes