Album Review: Clay Walker – ‘Long Live The Cowboy’

Clay Walker

The short version: Clay Walker stumbles on ‘Long Live The Cowboy,’ his first album in nine years.

  • Favorite tracks: “Makes Me Want To Stay,” “Love Is The Like The Rain,” “Napkin”
  • Least favorite track: “Little Miss Whiskey”
  • Rating: 4/10

The long version: I wish I was a little more excited about the idea of a new Clay Walker album.

Walker, like many of his contemporaries of his day, is now finding himself in the post-radio phase of his career, with his last hit being, “She Won’t Be Lonely Long” from 2009. For the most part, he’s quietly been one of the most underrated artists to emerge out of the ’90s, and now that the tides of mainstream country have shifted, surely Walker would just move on, right?

Unfortunately, no. In fact, Walker was saying just about everything you wouldn’t want him to say leading up to his newest album, Long Live The Cowboy. As he says in That Nashville Sound, “It’ll never be the same; we will never go back to the way it was in the ’80s or the ’90s or anything like that. Which is good. This change in the music has definitely helped country music grow. I think I’ve been able to make an album of music that falls right where it should be.” Of course, these words were said way back in 2015, and considering this album was finished as far back as 2013, this would mean the album is already outdated. At any rate, considering it’s been nine years since we heard new Walker music, surely this was at least deserving of one listen, right?

Well, yes, but one listen just may be all one will really be able to take of this album. It hurts to say this, but Long Live The Cowboy is not only bad all around, it’s also the worst album Walker has ever released by quite a big margin. This is not an album made by an artist who’s found his identity in a new age, it’s the album of someone trying to fit in without realizing it’s too late.

I don’t even know where to start with this album. To Walker’s credit, this does sound like an album from 2013, but that’s not exactly a good thing. It’s just a bloated mess, with synthetic production clashing with drum machines, chintzy percussion, electric guitars with no sizzle, and fiddles and steel guitars buried in the mix. This isn’t a Clay Walker album, it’s the template you use for whichever D-list artist you just signed onto your roster.

Even on “Little Miss Whiskey,” one of the only tracks with some “oomph” behind it, the riff that permeates after the chorus sounds weak and dead on arrival. The sentimental ballads on this album are overblown with added strings and piano on top of everything else in the aforementioned mix.

Walker’s always had the type of sensual voice that works best in his lower register, and he’s always been a pleasure to listen to. Here, there’s several moments where he struggles to keep up. The chorus of “Little Miss Whiskey” is one piece of evidence to bolster that claim, but so is his absolutely lethargic rendition of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.” Sure, he admittedly handles the love ballads “Right Now” and “Workin’ On Me” fairly well, and he’s definitely impressive on “Change,” but considering they’re all overblown in every other way, they’re still not exactly highlights.

But really, on the note of trying to keep up with a younger crowd, we can’t dance around the lyrical content anymore. Beyond feeling very 2013 in the way it caters to bro-country and misogynistic trends, there’s an odd sense of arrogance about it too, namely in the hookup tracks and how he approaches women. Take “Rock The Radio” for example, where Walker runs into an old flame after God knows how long before suggesting they just ride around in his truck blasting the radio, a rather odd turn of phrase.

The following track, “Right Now” may sound better, but even here, while him and his significant other are “texting all night on the telephone,” he asks, no, demands her to just hop into her car and drive over to his house, because he can’t come to her for … some reason. “Napkin” admittedly has a really good turnaround of a hook, but even here, it’s a track where Walker walks up to a woman in her bar and demands she write down her phone number on a napkin without a proper introduction (and of course this works!).

But the most egregious example of this meat-headed writing comes through on “Little Miss Whiskey,” a sleazy bro-country track that’s got nothing redeemable about it. Forget just being the worst song of the year so far. This is the worst song Walker has ever recorded. To quote some of the more infamous one-liners, “got a body she stole from the centerfold of a Playboy magazine” and “she knows just how to jack me up,” one of the worst innuendos since Florida Georgia Line’s pink umbrella line.

Honestly though, it doesn’t really get much better. For an album that tips its hat to the cowboy lifestyle, the title track is the only song even trying to go for that thematic arc. Even then, it’s just one big generic, checklist driven “ode” to them. You know how it goes already. They drive trucks, get stuck in the mud and live in the heart of ‘Merica. The more generic you get with these types of anthems, the less anyone will be able to connect with them. This review is already running long, so I’ll skip an extra paragraph on Walker’s attempt at rapping during this track too.

For as bad as this album is though, the latter half is admittedly where things start to pick up a little. “Napkin” at least comes with the self-awareness that his method of asking this woman out is incredibly outdated (in the chorus she just hands him her phone), and it would be kind of cute if not for the external irony of it all. “Love Is The Like The Rain” is about the only moment on this album where the electric guitars and sandy percussion actually have some groove to them, and “Change” as well as “Workin’ On Me” are schmaltzy ballads, but they’re performed well.

The one track here that’s truly great though is “Makes Me Want To Stay,” a track that begins with a Celtic romp before unfurling its fantastic melody. The drums (or drum machines) sound horrible everywhere else, but there’s some real crunch behind them here. If there’s any track that manages to pull itself together and really show a new interesting direction for Walker, it’s this one.

But you know, even for as much as I don’t think “Change” is as bad as most of the other tracks here, it’s ironic that it’s here at all. Walker’s proclamation that he’s always going to be himself is contradicted by this entire album. Walker is a talented artist, but this vicious cycle happens to every artist, even the legends. Instead of trying to fit in with the current radio climate, Walker should focus on doing what he’s always done – making rock solid country music, not soulless tripe such as this. For as harsh as I’ve been, I want Walker to come to his senses and rediscover the artist inside him, because we’ll all be better for it.

(Light 4/10)

The good:

The bad:

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