Western swing has always been a tough mistress to squire around town — she’s at once too sophisticated and too old- fashioned for contemporary taste. Until now, George Strait hasn’t been embarrassed by the company, but apparently feeling the pressure of new competitors, he’s wandered back into the honky-tonk where the reception has been friendlier. On Holding My Own, Strait’s most hard-core country album, he positions himself alongside such legends as Buck Owens and George Jones as a superior interpreter of pain and yearning — and fares considerably well, making up for his somewhat anonymous voice with impeccable phrasing. Despite the occasional snappy lead guitar and driving snare, most of the material has a – ’50s quality to it (Carl Perkins’ ”Faults and All”), and Strait displays more of an affinity for it than he does for the country-pop ”So Much Like My Dad.” It’s to Strait’s credit that even as he sees his career cool off, he still crafts records that concern themselves as much with fitting into a master’s catalog as they do with the singles chart.
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