Billy Ray Cyrus chose the title of his new album Back to Tennessee purposefully — and he may have followed its message too literally.
On 2007's comeback album, Home at Last, the Flatwoods native and father of Miley Cyrus presented a schizophrenic combination of classic-rock covers and contemporary country originals. Back to Tennessee arrives with a clearer focus: Build on the momentum Billy Ray Cyrus has regained recently with country music fans.
A few songs mime current country trends too explicitly: The first single, Somebody Said a Prayer, treads overly familiar ground in tying a spiritual message to everyday life, while the corny Like Nothing Else strings together over-the-top platitudes about a woman. A duet with his daughter on Butterfly, Fly Away — from the soundtrack of Hannah Montana: The Movie, opening Friday — underscores that ballads are neither's strong suit.
Cyrus fares best, as always, when bringing something fresh to the contemporary Nashville sound. The title song and Love Is the Lesson bridge breezy California pop with down-to-earth Nashville themes. Just as good, I Could Be the One and a Sheryl Crow cover, Real Gone, allow Cyrus to flash that amiable Kentucky cockiness that made him a country star in the first place.
Give It to Somebody shows that the Hollywood dad can dispense philosophical advice that avoids current Nashville cliches.
Cyrus never followed Nashville's formulas in the past; two decades on, he's still best when ignoring what's fashionable and instead giving the music a down-home kick.