George Strait’s twenty-eighth album, Love Is Everything, shows the veteran country star in a comfort zone. It’s not an ambitious attempt, by any means, but Strait shows he can still construct a country gem and compare to the best of them. Strait remains a studio whiz in producing songs that are easy to love and relate to, with arrangements that are equally accessible. Piano twinkles, quivering guitar twangs, and crisp percussion resonate over Strait’s richly paternalistic vocals; this is a description that has not changed throughout Strait’s 30+ years of performing. Love Is Everything is more of the same, and enjoyably so, while expanding slightly on Strait’s continuing emphasis on valuing life, love, and all the little things in between.
Opener “I Got a Car” actually expresses similar sentiments to Magnetic Fields’ “The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side.” It shows the ownership of a car, no matter how broken down, is a good ice-breaker for a hopeful relationship. Starting the album in such an old-fashioned optimistic tone provides a comfortable opening; this isn’t one of Strait’s moodier efforts, and neither is Love Is Everything as a whole – as the title may imply with its simple directness. Still, Strait continues his penchant for bittersweet concluding lyrical hooks. Here, as a stable relationship grows older and its participants show primarily physical signs of fading, Strait offers up something that sparked the romance in the first place – a ride in his car. It’s a simple yet elegant representation of the types of songs Strait writes best; several in this ilk appear throughout Love Is Everything to help make it a warmly enjoyable release.
Although the album suffers occasionally from bouts of generic rockers that chug along too long and ballads that don’t travel much, a track like “That’s What Breaking Hearts Do” showcases Strait’s knack for infectiously polished pieces of country goodness. And yes, he rhymes beers with tears here too. The chorus is brisk like a breeze of fresh air on a summer’s day, a setting ripe for an effort like this. While “That’s What Breaking Hearts Do” soars, the catchiness of “The Night Is Young” is more suited to barnyard dancing, the country-time strings practically conjuring visions of cowboy hats about to fall onto gesturing violins. Appreciating the small things in life is a topic that Strait has explored throughout his career, and here he does so again – all while reminding listeners not to forget about the big things either, like love. A topic as broad can ignite some tired ideas, as they do occasionally on Love Is Everything, but the gems like “I Got a Car” and the self-titled track are brilliant, juggling the heart-breaking with a grinning optimism that appreciates life and all its trials.
While some songs suffer from sappy repetition, like the generic twang of “Give It All We Got Tonight” or the sleepy twinkle of subdued ballad “I Believe”, their weaknesses aren’t exactly glaring. “I Believe” has several opportunities to advance into soaring classic Strait ballad territory, but opts to go a more Disney-like route instead during the dull string-led transition to the chorus. It’s a pleasant sounding effort, but there’s not much there. These tracks could take a cue from the self-titled effort, which evolves from extremely melodic chord progressions into a beauteous twang of a chorus. “It’s those fires that daddy stoked those nights to keep you warm, it’s the hell your momma went through the day you were born,” Strait sings tenderly in one of his greatest vocal performances on the album. The little touch of twinkling keys at the end of each verse is phenomenally executed, much like the dramatic quivers of guitars during the chorus. “Love Is Everything” is an exceptionally produced effort, and it’s easy to see why Strait chose to name the album after it. It summarizes the album’s theme, of valuing love every day, as best as humanly possible. The human element is one that resonates throughout the album, and rarely as effectively in music as its self-titled cut, a track as good as anything throughout Strait’s three decades of recording.