July 05, 2004 12:00 PM

Joe Nichols

With a laid-back sound that manages to be both warm and rugged, Joe Nichols evokes such great country artists as Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard and Randy Travis. The singer’s second album demonstrates his ability to go from the philosophical “Things Like That (These Days)” to the clever honky tonk of “Don’t Ruin It for the Rest of Us” (“With your braggin’ that you fell in love/’Cause you see we’re kinda busy here, swappin’ lies and crying in our beer”). Artfully backed by guitarists Bryan Sutton and Brent Rowan (who also produced) and keyboardist Gordon Mote, Nichols, a 27-year-old Arkansan, gets the most out of his 11 songs (only one of which he helped write). He successfully revisits “Revelation,” a tune first recorded by Waylon Jennings in 1972: “The clouds rolled back and there stood Jesus Christ in all his glory/And I realized the saddest eyes I’d ever seen were lookin’ straight at me.” Religious references pop up again on the cerebral “If Nobody Believed You” (“What if God quit trying/And He just turned away”), but Nichols’s charm and ingratiating style smoothly integrate the spiritual and the secular.


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