George Strait, the old-school, traditional, consistent, semi-retired Country Music Hall of Fame member, might be the last person anyone would expect to join the trend-conscious movement of stars dropping a completed album with no advanced notice. The surprises don’t end there. Cold Beer Conversation finds the Texas legend working with a new producer for the first time in 25 years. Chuck Ainlay has engineered Strait’s albums for decades, but this time he sits in the producer’s chair. That said, Cold Beer Conversation is vintage George Strait. He has such a strong vocal presence that even when he takes a left turn, as he often does, it still sounds like him. Chuck Ainlay does occasionally get too heavy-handed, for example, the rowdy, drunken choir of voices on the chorus “Goin’ Goin’ Gone” is a Nashville cliché that clutters up an otherwise good song. However for all of that, the highlights prove that Gentleman George remains at the top of his game; from the casual way he captures a meaningful talk between buddies on the title track to the melodic intimacy of “Let It Go” and the jaunty Western swing of “It Takes All Kinds,” the album adds another gem to one of country music’s deepest, most entertaining catalogues.
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