A Stopover in Strait Country

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The virtues of satellite radio are too numerous to list here, but besides commercial-free episodes of American Top 40 with Casey Kasem every Saturday and Sunday, Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour and Tom Petty's Buried Treasure all day Wednesdays and Thursdays and the dormant-but-back-soon all-Led Zeppelin channel, XM Radio subscribers currently have the pleasure of all the George Strait they can handle.

To mark last Tuesday's release of Strait's latest album, Troubador, one of XM's six country channels has given itself over to King George until June 1. Now operating under the handle Strait Country, XM 17 is normally known as U.S. Country and traffics in country hits from the '80s and '90s, so it's not exactly a huge stretch. Put your boots up and stay awhile...

11:12 p.m., "The Cowboy Rides Away": As good an introduction to the Strait canon as any, a down-at-the-mouth ballad where the cowboy doesn't get the girl. Plays over the end credits of 1992's Pure Country, Strait's lone cinematic starring role notable mostly for his completely non-characteristic ponytail, a punk rocker (X's John Doe) playing his best friend / drummer and Friday Night Lights' Kyle Chandler as the would-be usurper to King George's throne.

11:22 p.m.: George Jones, "She Thinks I Still Care": Strait Country isn't quite all George all the time, breaking up Strait's dominion with occasional cuts from buddies like Alan Jackson and influences like the Possum. Jones' 1962 all-time classic has been remade, after a fashion, over the years as "He Thinks I Still Care" and "She Thinks I Steal Cars."

11:33 p.m., "Don't Make Me Come Over There and Love You": Perish the thought. You could fill Reliant Stadium several times over with good-time Texas gals who would love nothing more.

11:42 p.m., "The Honky Tonk Downstairs": A lost nugget from Strait's first album, also called Strait Country, this Dallas Frazier two-stepper takes on added resonance if you happen to live above a bar. Like Mickey Gilley said, don't the girls all get prettier at closing time? What do you mean they don't?

11:47 p.m., "The Fireman": A personal favorite and standout from the album that established Strait as head and shoulders above the rest of the "New Traditionalists," 1984's Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind? Double entendres and snappy fiddle-steel interplay showed Western Swing had no problems surviving well into the '80s and beyond.

11:56 p.m.: Unknown, "The Star-Spangled Banner": Wow, this is taking "traditionalist" to a new level. I haven't heard a station sign off with the national anthem since I was in elementary school. Oh wait, they're signing right back on.

12:00 a.m., "Troubador": Something from the new record. George compares himself to Jesse James, which is almost as funny as his ponytail in Pure Country.

12:05 a.m., "Right or Wrong": One of his best Bob Wills covers. Take a bow, Gene Elders on fiddle. Practically a duet.

12:08 a.m.: Longtime Strait producer Tony Brown, whose day job is running MCA Nashville, talks about working in the studio with George: "Everyone loves George. I guess the musicians we use are like the Ace in the Hole Band in the studio. George doesn't like a lot of strangers." Leads into one of Strait's best-ever covers, Rodney Crowell's sly "Stars on the Water."

12:16 a.m., "You Look So Good in Love": How many couples have slow-danced to this ballad without realizing it's another one of Strait's greats about the girl who got away? Like U2's "One" in that way - a popular wedding song about love on the rocks.

12:20 a.m., "Her Only Bad Habit is Me": If you say so, George. If you mean comparing her poor husband / boyfriend / first date to you, then maybe so. Supple and slinky.

12:22 a.m., "Let's Fall to Pieces Together": One of his best first couplets ever: "Pardon me, you left your tears on the jukebox. Looks like they got mixed up with mine." Strait has a lot of songs that reference other country classics, but this one stands just fine on its own.

12:32 a.m., "We Really Shouldn't Be Doing This": For a huge superstar, Strait has always danced with the sounds that brung him, like this irresistible Cajun shuffle. See also: "Adalida," from 1994's Lead On.

12:35 a.m., "Hollywood Squares": One of the the things that makes Strait so unique is his resistance to capitalize on pop-culture comings and goings unless he can really put his signature on it. On this frisky comparison of love with a busted game of tic-tac-toe, he does.

12:44 a.m., "The Real Thing": Strait speaks out against Pat Boone's watered-down covers, and in favor of Elvis, Johnny Cash and 86 proof. People wonder why we love him so much.

12:53 a.m., "I Don't Think She Likes Me Anymore": George does have a tendency to be too hard on himself from time to time...

12:57 a.m., "House of Cash": Troubadour duet with Patty Loveless about the fire at the late Johnny Cash's house a year ago this Thursday. Loveless bids "Goodbye Johnny, goodbye June"; Strait chimes in with "There won't be no yard sale now." Both agree, "The ring of fire comes full circle." Fun fact: Bee Gee Barry Gibb bought the house shortly before it went up in flames.

1:03 a.m., "Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind?": Why yes, it does. Every night about this time, as a matter of fact.

1:07 a.m.: George talks about technology: "I have an iPod but I don't have anything in it. I think somebody gave it to me for Christmas."

We might revisit Strait Country a few more times before the cowboy rides away. Stay tuned. - Chris Gray

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