Twenty years after “Achy Breaky Heart” propelled Billy Ray Cyrus to international stardom with his debut release, Some Gave All, the singer/songwriter returns with his 13th studio album, Change My Mind. The project, due in stores October 23, features 10 hard-edged and personal songs willing to challenge any perceptions about the 51-year-old singer.
Co-producing the album with Brandon Friesen, Billy Ray wrote seven of the album’s 10 songs himself without outside influence. He’s also releasing the record on his own Blue Cadillac Music, a label he created with Friesen to launch the project. These decisions offer an idea about the amount of creative control Billy Ray has on Change My Mind, and the result is felt immediately in the urgency and ruggedness of the overall sound.
The album opener and lead-single “Change My Mind” draws its power from heavy guitars and thundering percussion as Billy Ray acknowledges the demons, singing, I’ve been talking to myself, low down in the mix. It’s more aggressive than anything he has ever released and the delivery comes off as more of a growl, stirring up images of clenched teeth. The first half of the album follows suit with some serious muscle as songs like “Once Again” and “Hillbilly Heart” revel in distortion and rock-oriented grooves. However, the sound stays just this side of Led Zeppelin as an incendiary fiddle screams on the former tune through standard country lyrics like, I feel my heart break once again. On “Hillbilly Heart,” a thick, swampy stomp rings loud as Billy Ray defends the musical direction, singing out, Lord, I love the guitar / Love to hear it loud / If you don’t like what you hear you should leave this crowd, with a laid-back drawl.
Billy Ray is an immensely-talented singer, and while many of the tracks here place the vocals lower in the mix, songs like “Forgot To Forget” remind listeners just how great his voice is. With a soulful touch that hints at Roy Orbison, he smoothly moves through the lines, I never look at the moon / or think about the stars / without the hurt beatin’ in my heart, with feeling and precision. On the optimistic “Hope Is Just Ahead,” one of the more traditional-leaning tunes on the album, Billy Ray recounts the Columbine tragedy before looking to a better tomorrow, singing, Hope is just ahead / Sorrow’s just behind us, with a tender, understanding and comforting approach.
The album’s heart and soul, and what Billy Ray notes is the project’s most personal song, is the vulnerable and emotional, “Tomorrow Became Yesterday.” A heartbreaking reflection on a broken relationship, Billy Ray sings, Now I stand here on the fray/not really knowing just what to say, with compelling uncertainty, struggling under the weight of dashed dreams. The song’s counterpoint later in the album, “That’s What Daddys Do,” offers a possible answer through a touching ballad about a father working to put his family back together.
Change My Mind serves as a statement that Billy Ray’s going to make the records he wants to make, the way he wants to make them. The closing song “Stomp” relishes in gritty, barn house blues while the blistering, guitar-slinging remake of “I’m So Miserable,” originally released on Billy Ray’s debut, Some Gave All, serves as further notice of this independent spirit. On Change My Mind, any preconceived notions are taken to task, delivering a fresh sound that will challenge some listeners to change what they thought they knew about Billy Ray Cyrus.
Key Tracks – “Tomorrow Became Yesterday,” “Forgot To Forget,” “Hillbilly Heart,” “Change My Mind”