Pop honkytonker Neal McCoy had actually been around for ages before he started to score a few hits in Nashville: he started his career singing backup for Charley Pride in the early '80s, and made a tentative stab at a solo career late in the decade. (Note of delicious irony: the Irish-Filipino singer originally used "McGoy" as a stage name, as a way of shortening his birth name, Hubert Neal McGaughey, Jr... Wonder how long it took for someone to catch up to him and suggest the switcheroo?) Anyway, McCoy is one of the most genuinely enjoyable artists of the '90s line-dancing years, and has shown remarkable durability in his career, making finely-crafted but not too-serious music, best on the uptempo material, but also a fine ballad singer. Here's a quick look at his work...
Neal McCoy "Greatest Hits" (Atlantic, 1997)
A ten-song best-of which covers his early hits, mostly ridiculously prefab pop-honkytonk fluff, but with a few surprisingly resonant tunes, particularly "The City Put The Country Back In Me" and "If I Was A Drinking Man." Anyway, this stuff isn't really my cup of tea, but it also doesn't completely suck. For the territory, McCoy's material ain't bad. Plus, that boot-scootin' go-godelic "The Shake" is kinda catchy.
Neal McCoy "The Very Best Of Neal McCoy" (Warner/Rhino, 2008)
Neal McCoy "At This Moment" (Atlantic, 1990)
Neal McCoy "Where Forever Begins" (Atlantic, 1992)
Neal McCoy "No Doubt About It" (Atlantic, 1994)
(Produced by Barry Beckett)
This was McCoy's big breakthrough album, with hits such as "No Doubt About It" and "Wink," which both hit #1, and "The City Put The Country Back In Me," a pleasant, honkytonk-ish no-brainer tailormade for linedancing. In my opinion, McCoy is at his best when he keeps it simple, and champions purposefully dopey material; his ballads and softer stuff are pretty yucky. The bubba approach does backfire, though, for example on a song like "Mudslide," and "Small Up And Simple Down" is pretty borderline. This album also includes a couple of religiously themed tunes, "Heaven" and "Something Moving In Me," which might play well with the contemporary Christian crowd.
Neal McCoy "You Gotta Love That!" (Atlantic, 1995)
(Produced by Barry Beckett)
Prefab, slightly rigid country-pop... It's not bad, but it lacks spontaneity... It also lacks songs that really stick in your mind. "If I Was A Drinking Man" and "Twang" are the standouts, but the album as a whole just didn't grab me...
Neal McCoy "Neal McCoy" (Atlantic, 1996)
(Produced by Barry Beckett)
Another prefab set that sometimes works in spite of the formula... On the one hand, McCoy is a likeable figure: you kind of have to like someone who can so cheerfully throw themselves into such dorky tunes as "Me Too" and "That Woman Of Mine." On the other hand, when he gets all serious on awkward, strained power ballads like "It Should Have Happened That Way," "Betcha Can't Do That Again" and "She Can," it's pretty painful. Too slick for me, and probably for many twangfans, too, I'd wager, although some of it slips into guilty pleasure territory. Of course, he obliterates almost all good will with the album's closer, "Hillbilly Rap," which is a su-u-u-u-u-u-uper-lame "rap" version of the "Beverly Hillbillies" theme (with an equally lame, thumpy lead-in swiped from the "Banana Boat Song...") What were they thinkin'?
Neal McCoy "Be Good At It" (Atlantic, 1997)
(Produced by Kyle Lehning)
Slick, poppy and prefab, but when it works, it works. McCoy's approach is intentionally brainless and bubblegummy, but there's a lot to be said for having faith is dumb, simple melodies and a cheerful attitude. Songs like the title track, "(If You Can't Be Good) Be Good At It," are listenable and even a bit fun, in a guilty pleasure kind of way, although the formula can wear thin quickly, as witnessed on most of the other tracks on here ("Back," "Same Boots," etc.) and the ballads are pretty terrible. He also gets in one good, straightforward honkytonker, "Your Basic Farewell," that's worth checking out, too... Then, just when you're ready to close the book on this disc, McCoy hits ya -- wham!! bam!! -- with "The Shake," the catchiest and most go-go-delic of all his hits. Of course, that tune, which peaked at #5 on the charts, actually came out earlier as a new track on his 1997 Greatest Hits collection, so the rest of this record was just thrown together to provide filler around the hit. It shows, but then again, that isn't much different than McCoy's other albums, which are usually pretty superficial... All in all, this is one of his better records.
Neal McCoy "The Life Of The Party" (Atlantic, 1999)
This is one of those immaculate, perfectly crafted modern Nashville albums that makes you shake your head and marvel at how the corniest formulas and cheesiest production can still pull you in, even when you can't stand the style... To his credit, McCoy's rich, resonant vocals are a big part of the success... From the opening notes, it's clear he's matured as a singer and grown into his voice. A couple of these songs are just too awful for even him to pull it off (notably the super-sappy power ballads, "Only You" and "Completely") but others may provoke an unwilling smile, such as the clever, classic "That's Not Her," and the old-fashioned "Life Of The Party." Nothing earthshaking, but still an album that shows him a worthy heir to the '70s countrypolitan tradition.
Neal McCoy "24-7-365" (Warner Brothers, 2000)
Neal McCoy "That's Life" (903 Music/Navarre, 2005)
(Produced by Eric Silver)
I dunno.. the longer I'm exposed to Neal McCoy, the more I gotta admire him, for his consistency, if nothing else. Country radio may have forgotten about him, but his fans won't, at least as long as he keeps putting out discs like this one. McCoy has an utter faith in the simplest and most obvious pop-country formulae -- he'll throw himself into a dopey, goofball redneck novelty song with as much conviction as he applies to the super-drippy ballads that populate the other end of his albums. On one hand there are no-brainer party anthems like "Got Mud," "Tailgate" and "Billy's Got His Beer Goggles On"; on the other hand there are the sappy songs, which are as gooey as ever, but hey, a lot of people love that stuff. Charley Pride, who gave McCoy his first big break, years and years ago, sings on a nice, warm, boozy duet, and while it's a little embarassing that McCoy is still recycling material like his "Hillbilly Rap" (a thumping medley of the "Beverly Hillbillies" theme and Harry Belafonte's "Day-O"), the rest of this record is pretty solid. In fact, it's probably the best record of his career. Worth checking out, at least if you like unapologetically super-commercial stuff.
Neal McCoy & Les Brown, Jr. "The Music Of Your Life" (DPTV, 2011)
In an interesting career twist, this ever-amiable '90s country star pairs up with big-band leader Les Brown, Jr., for a funky set of pop-vocals standards. McCoy has always had a strong pop sensibility; it's kind of fun to hear him go all wayback-machine on us and delve into old-school crooning.
Neal McCoy "Pride: A Tribute To Charley Pride" (Slate Creek, 2013)
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