After four years of self-imposed exile following his major-label exit and an unfortunate arrest, Chris Cagle returns with a full-length album that promises something different with the unconventional but beautiful water color painted album cover. Could the guy that brought us “Chicks Dig It” have turned over a new artistic leaf and deliver a career-defining effort now that he’s had more time and is working more independently? The answer? Yes and no.
The album opens up with the heard-on-radio “Got My Country On.” Not exactly novel in its song topic, it says way too similar things to the legions of similar songs about rural living, trucks and cowboy hats- and how thats' the best. Others have done it better, actually. After being absent for so long, is this really what his songwriting muse was wanting to share? “I’ll Grow My Own” is a rebellious and politically conservative Jason Aldean-like production with a Hank, Jr message. Cagle is frustrated that government is taking God out of our schools and lives. The message gets its point across and whether you agree with his stance or not, he does a decent job of opening himself up to the listener and making a case. “Something That Wild” is a somewhat forgettable almost-ballad with geographic Midwest namedrops and “Let There Be Cowgirls” rewrites the story of Adam and Eve to include a drawl. The latter song rocks the electric guitar like Aldean and while it probably makes perfect for the loud live show, critically it measures more on the silly side.
Five songs into the album on "Dance Baby Dance," we finally get a real solid glimpse of a more personal and tender appeal from the artist. Told from a father’s perspective, the song uses a father-daughter dance as footprints on a timeline. Very well done, I’ll make for a wonderful father-daughter dance at many a wedding.
Another stand-out track is the Jonathan Singleton penned “Probably Just Time.” The up and down vocals contrast well with the song’s mid-tempo and the lyrics are at once sentimental and somber. Love lost resonates well here. The dobro work on the track is fantastic. The trend of the strong slower tempo songs continues with “Thank God She Left the Whiskey.” A man comes home to house emptied out of belongings and he takes solace in the alcohol she left behind. Here, while the song topic has been done before, Cagle puts a unique stamp on it to make it his own.
Part country AC/DC and part ballads, Back in the Saddle does best when Cagle unplugs that DC from the wall and plays the more personal and emotional stuff acoustically. Then, the material is definitely strong enough to where we look forward to even more work from the artist down the road.
A slightly more acoustic Jason Aldean
“Dance Baby Dance”
“Probably Just Time”
“Thank God She Left the Whiskey”
Three stars out of five