Joe Nichols, one of Nashville’s few Young Turks who kick it old-school, took the easy route on his last outing, III, with sexed-up novelty songs (”Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off”). Mercifully, album No. 4 (Real Things) finds him exploring emotional depth again. Nichols still brings a youthfulness to the up-tempo fantasy ”Comin’ Back in a Cadillac,” but it’s soulful ballads like ”My Whiskey Years” that best showcase his rich baritone — a sinewy blend of Merle Haggard/Randy Travis vulnerability — and put him in a league with the masters.
DOWNLOAD THIS: My Whiskey Years