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Back to Tennessee

  • Reviewed by Andrew Greer Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2009 7 Apr
Back to Tennessee
Sounds like … authentic power pop country;? the radio-readiness of Rascal Flatts mixed with the grit of Toby Keith and the wit of Brady Paisley. At a glance … Billy's back recording the kind of catchy, down home country music he became famous for in the early 90's. Track Listing Back to Tennessee Thrillbilly He's Mine Somebody Said A Prayer A Good Day I Could be the One Like Nothing Else Country as Country Can Be Love is the Lesson Give it to Somebody Real Gone Bonus Track: Butterfly Fly Away w/ Miley Cyrus

Chances are you can still sing the chorus of Billy Ray Cyrus' 1992 honky-tonk hit, "Achy Breaky Heart" by, well … heart.? Don't worry.? I can too.? And though fifteen years have passed since the world-famous chorus catapulted Cyrus into Country music superstardom, the tune still rides high on many American radio airwaves.

For many overnight successes, a quick ride to the top signals a rocky plunge back to the bottom. Cyrus was no different. In the years following his initial celebrity, sales dramatically declined and failed to meet even bottom-line expectations. Taking his late father's advice, Cyrus decided to "branch out."? The result?? A surprising film and television career that now has him starring in Disney's Emmy-nominated Hannah Montana TV show (and the movie version opening this week) with real life daughter Miley Cyrus.

But television isn't the only medium benefiting from Billy Ray's famous familial partnership. The singer/songwriter landed his first song in the country top five in nearly a decade with 2007's "Ready, Set, Don't Go," a duet with Miley. Rejuvenating the once-tired musician's recording career, the success prompted the Flatwood, Kentucky, native to return to his roots.

Making the pilgrimage from Los Angeles to Nashville, Cyrus recorded his eleventh disc, aptly titled Back to Tennessee, holed up in a local studio to recreate the memorable brand of backwoods music that got rural America into a "Billy Ray" tizzy a dozen or so years ago.

And it worked.

Kicking the CD into high gear with a killer title track (and a central song for the upcoming Hannah Montana feature film), the California-based singer finds his way back "to southern air so sweet" with a hook-infected chorus. "Thrillbilly" takes advantage of the singer's bigger-than-life renegade reputation in a chorus lined with redneck platitudes like "hillbilly," "homestyle," and "buck wild."

Cyrus is at his best when he proudly belts, "Red, white, and blue are the colors I bleed. I thank the Almighty for the land of the free" from "Country as Country Can Be," an authentic anthem brimming with brash clichés that would make even Cyrus' most outspoken contemporaries like Toby Keith proud.

Cyrus has sustained a career keeping fans guessing. And yes, television has certainly afforded the singer new celebrity, but Billy Ray Cyrus is a musician first. And though Back to Tennessee may only hint at the singer-turned-actor's Christian faith (i.e. the beautifully crafted "Somebody Say a Prayer"), this CD is Cyrus' finest offering in years, signaling his official Country music return after a mostly unsuccessful era of recording inspirational music.

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