Clay Walker is one of those artists who has a tendency to keep bouncing back. After a strong streak for most of the 1990s on Giant Records, he fell off sharply once the label was folded into Warner Bros., then moved from there to RCA for one album before jumping to Asylum-Curb to release Fall in 2007. She Won't Be Lonely Long makes a convincing argument as to why Clay is still on the big-name labels, even after most of his early-90s peers have jumped ship for independents or given up entirely.
The album kicks off with its easygoing mid-tempo title track, focusing on that one woman who's just left her relationship and is clearly looking for another man. This song's interesting lyrics, smooth production and infectious chorus really make it stand out at radio; small wonder that the song has managed to sneak its way into the Top 10 on the brink of the album's release.
Although Clay's voice sounds a bit strained on the higher notes of "Like We Never Said Goodbye," the lyrics are flowing, conversational and detailed in their sketches of a separated couple's reunion. Perhaps set a few months earlier is "Where Do I Go from You," which gives a fresh, melodic spin on the familiar tale of still seeing a former lover everywhere he looks. Either of these two tracks would make an excellent choice for a single.
"Keep Me from Loving You" comes courtesy of Neil Thrasher and Wendell Mobley, whose names are constant presences on Rascal Flatts albums, but Rascal Flatts-esque tripe it is not. It's sort of a thematic extension of Reba's "I Keep On Loving You" in that it explores not only the hardships of the relationship in its current state, but also the difficulties faced in making the relationship in the first place.
The tempo picks up with "Jesse James," which blends bluegrass and Southern rock with a soulful lyric about right vs. wrong, seen through Western imagery; sometimes he wants to be like Jesus, and other times he wants to be Jesse James. For an artist who rarely cuts up-tempos (he hasn't released one since "Live, Laugh, Love"), "Jesse James" is a serious gamble that pays off.
Speaking of Jesus, "Seven Sundays" uses obvious religious themes surprisingly well in its tale of a man who, while a religious child, wandered away from the fold but has since come back. Also in the spiritual vein is "People in Planes," which uses a keen observation of people on an airplane and the lyric "counting on somebody we can't see to land this thing" as a metaphor for this world and God's role in it.
As with his last album, Walker has a few co-writing credits with M. Jason Greene. First is "Double Shot of John Wayne," a simple tribute to heroes like Wayne that, while solid enough, sounds at times like it was cribbed from Randy Travis' "Heroes and Friends." "All American" piles on the obvious flag-waving clichés to the point that not even Walker's strong voice can do much to save it.
"Summertime Song" is a bit less obvious with its summertime themes, although "let the scorching sun and the salt in the sea / burn the skin right off of me" may be the most painful lyric in a summer-themed song. "Wrong Enough to Know," which Walker wrote with Kim Williams and Doug Johnson, hangs itself on a clever hook and pleasant mid-tempo groove while exploring all the wrong turns that have led the song's central character to his lover. Sound familiar? Yes. But it's hard to ignore that soaring falsetto on the chorus.
Closing off the album is a faithful cover of Alabama's 1981 single "Feels So Right" with a backing vocal from Alabama lead singer Randy Owen. Although it isn't at all far removed from the original in sound, the song hardly needed any changes to fit Clay's sound and not sound dated.
The country music market in 2010 is nothing like it was in 1993. Even though he's on the charts far less often than he was in the nineties, Walker has proven time and time again that he has the talent and material to remain relevant at radio. What's more, She Won't Be Lonely Long mostly feels like an actual, cohesive album, not just twelve tracks of radio fodder. At the very least, the album proves that Walker's already impressive career is far from over, and may even be at the opening of a new chapter.