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Nobody's Got It All (Columbia)

John Anderson album Feb 23rd

John Anderson's first album since 1997's Takin' The Country Back couldn't come along at a better time. He steps back into today's sometimes confusing musical landscape with a confident, rugged new work that will remind listeners what a hard-core country singer truly sounds like.

And the sound of Nobody's Got It All is both modern and timeless, crackling with ragged guitars over crisp, confident backbeats. It's a perfect setting for John's one-of-a-kind voice, an immediately recognizable sound that effortlessly evokes the history, pride and pain of the best country music.

Appropriately enough for a man entering his 27th year in the business, the major theme here is how time brings both loss and wisdom. "Five Generations Of Rock County Wilsons" mourns the passing of family ties, while "Appalachian Blue" - co-written by sister Donna Kay Anderson - and "I Ain't Afraid Of Dying" both touch on the subject of dubious "progress." The closing track, a countrified take on Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City," fits right in as a haunting wish to return to happier days.

Elsewhere on the album, "It Ain't Easy Being Me" takes that old country standby, self-pity, to new heights - both comic and chilling. John finds a moment of tremendous power in the self-penned "I Ain't Afraid Of Dying," where the seemingly cocky title line is followed by It's the living that scares me to death. It takes a real man to sing words like that, and to let you hear the vulnerability and horror behind them. Having John Anderson back in the game is nothing short of a relief.

-- Chris Neal.

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