There is perhaps nothing sadder than seeing a great musician who's stayed in the spotlight just a little too long, tripping at the foot of the stage instead of making a graceful exit. And since musicians never seem to retire, you see it far too often, especially in the never-say-die realm of country music, where Branson has unfortunately postponed almost every C&W guitar slinger's retirement plans. Even the ones who don't make it to Nash Vegas hold on too long. Explaining the title of his latest release, Hank Thompson writes in the liner notes of Seven Decades that his "recording career can be likened to the old saying 'What goes around, comes around.' I did my first session at Sellars Studio in Dallas, Texas in August 1946...And now, in March 2000, I am back in Dallas." Which, I guess, after giving the math a quick once-over, makes Hank Thompson a local legend, though that only means he definitely should have hung it up a few years back.
Since Thompson got the ball rolling with his invocation of the hallowed goes/comes-around cliché, here are some others that would apply to Seven Decades: You can't teach an old dog new tricks. Let sleeping dogs lie. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Same shit, different day. Obviously, that's just a short list; Thompson's songs are so simplistic, the hard part would be finding a song that doesn't sound like another one. Just listen to the disc's leadoff song, and de facto title track, "Sting In This Ole Bee": "If there's honey left in that hive," Thompson sings in a voice you've heard a thousand times if you've heard it once, "there's sting in this ole bee." But there's not, really. He doesn't sound like he means it anyway.
Thompson makes a good effort on Seven Decades, but unless you grade the disc on a curve, this is just an average country album, about as extraordinary as a new country record by someone named Chad. It is most certainly not, as Thompson states in the liner notes, an album that "might be my best ever." No, this has the all-too-familiar taint of omnipresent producer/Dixie Chick dad Lloyd Maines on it, every rough edge sanded down beyond recognition. (Seriously, if there is a country album recorded in Texas that Maines doesn't have his paws in, I'd like to hear it.) But Maines isn't entirely to blame. No one forced Thompson to trot out his adopted theme song, Cindy Walker's "Triflin' Gal," for one more walk around the block. And does the world need yet another version of "The Wreck of The Old '97," no matter what kind of spin Thompson puts on it? Didn't think so. If nothing else, maybe this chance to reflect on Seven Decades' worth of work will give Thompson the proper distance to decide enough's enough.
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