Country music has long been known for a steady stream of songs and albums from its artists. Sometimes it’ll be a year-and-a-half – maybe two – in between projects, but a follow-up is never that far off. Chris Cagle’s fifth studio album, Back in the Saddle, comes four years after his No. 1 album, My Life’s Been A Country Song. Spending much of that time working his family’s ranch in Marietta, Okla., Chris displays a noticeable maturity on the 11-song collection as he gets back to basics.
Back in the Saddle, in stores now, features a rough-around-the-edges sound that is right at home out on the range. Even the CD art has a tan, Western look backing up that image. Songs like the album’s lead single, the arena-neck “Got My Country On,” rocks hard on chiseled riffs as Chris sings of good times full of chillin’, chicken, grillin’ and guitars. However, the new husband and dad also acknowledges life’s responsibilities in a melodic chorus, singing, Getting’ it done with my own two hands / Puttin’ some green in a coffee can. The Southern rock “I’ll Grow My Own” is a sturdy statement of self-reliance that further drives that message home. Building on fiddle and pedal steel over a hard-nosed acoustic-based rhythm section, pro-farmer and pro-family lyrics ring out before an intense bridge breaks it all open.
Chris’ life as a family man comes through often. On “Let There Be Cowgirls,” a song he co-wrote with Kim Tribble, inspiration comes from Chris’ wife. I saw her riding on a horse and fell in love so bad it hurt, he sings passionately. The song, which has a chorus vaguely reminiscent of Jason Aldean’s “She’s Country,” features some superbly swamp-filled resonator and B-3 organ to round out the hard-country production. “Southern Girl” is a countrypolitan-sprinkled tune with a playful melody and smooth vibe that echoes Chris’ home life with mentions of Oklahoma breezes and Western skies. Chris co-wrote these and three others on the project, including what will probably be heard at many weddings in the not-too-distant future. “Dance Baby Dance” is a gentle father/daughter ballad that closes with giving his little girl away.
One of the album’s most tender moments is found on “Probably Just Time,” a beautiful ¾-time ballad of somehow finding the strength to move on. ‘Cause I didn’t count on living this long / and being alright with the hurt being gone, Chris sings with a sad, lonesome drawl. The melancholy tempo and gentle sway ensures that every nuanced emotion is felt through and through. Following that up with “Thank God She Left the Whiskey,” a tear-stained country heartbreaker, some of the project’s darkest themes come to the surface on the album’s second half. However, for the most part, Back in the Saddle keeps the tempo dialed up.
Gone here are the Walmart parking lots and songs about chicks diggin’ it. An older and wiser voice is heard on Back in the Saddle, with room even for the slightly sinister, Appalachian-influenced “When Will My Lover Come Around.” Layered harmonies flow over a unique chorus-verse-chorus-bridge progression with stirring images that Chris pulls off confidently. Chris sounds refreshed and strong on Back in the Saddle, and fans will find that this album is worth the wait.
Key Tracks – “Let There Be Cowgirls,” “Dance Baby Dance,” “Probably Just Time,” “Something That Wild”