Billy Ray Cyrus seemed to lack musical inspiration on recent albums. His country albums took different directions, none of them creating a stir, and the veteran started a rock band that never took off.
So offering a patriotic album could come off as a desperate maneuver. But by featuring sensitive songs about soldiers and their families, "I'm American" serves up Cyrus' best collection since before he became known as Miley's dad.
The title song rocks with a 1970s stomp, but most of the album goes for a mid-tempo setting, subtly focusing attention on the drama in the lyrics. Cyrus consistently raises the flag for all the right reasons, from the opening "Runway Lights," about a soldier yearning for what he misses at home, to "Nineteen," about an all-star whose athletic talents gets him the most dangerous battlefield assignments.
The Kentucky native also revives "Some Gave All," the title song from his 20year-old debut album. He brings in Darryl Worley and two former soldiers, Jamey Johnson and Craig Morgan, giving extra weight to lyrics about the sacrifices the military take. The song holds up well today, deserving the fresh treatment.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: "Old Army Hat," co-written by Walt Aldridge and Bill Anderson, spins a character study reminiscent of classic country story songs like "Gentle on My Mind" or "(Old Dogs, Children and) Watermelon Wine," leading a listener to hang on every word to see where the story goes. Cyrus casts just the right tone with his half-spoken delivery.