John Anderson: Easy Money

John Anderson
Easy Money
Raybaw/Warner Bros. Nashville

A waltz that effortlessly updates Western swing, "Willie's Guitar" sums up the strengths of John Anderson's Easy Money. The track puts Anderson's slippery baritone head-to-head with guest Willie Nelson's astringently phrased vocals and laconic guitar. It's slick, and a little bent. Produced by John Rich and with many songs co-written with various MusikMafia denizens, Easy Money might well be the record Big & Rich have been trying to make since their debut. The songs seem conjured out of some collective unconscious, so that the overall effect is that of '80s country re-imagined by people with a sense of history.

The title track and "Funky Country" rock out, powered by avian fiddle and guitar parts that go askew. But Anderson digs deep on "Bonnie Blue," a masterpiece of pentatonic Southern melancholy. When Anderson sings, "Yeah, they showed you wrong from right/Bonnie Blue, I'm so sorry that I'm crying/But there's not a lot of difference/Between black and white," he could be describing the Civil War or post-Katrina New Orleans. Subtly defiant, and just this side of sentimental, it's a song worthy of the Band at their most haunted.

Elsewhere, "You Already Know My Love" is a '70s soul-music move, while "Weeds" combines an insistent acoustic guitar riff with spooky pedal steel. The alcoholic stutter that hooks "Brown Liquor" is in the same raffish, henpecked tradition upheld by "Something to Drink About," but Anderson manages to sound as sensible about marriage as he does about booze, history, and money.