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American By God's Amazing Grace

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Album Review

It's unfortunate that Luke Stricklin will be pegged as a redneck right-wing reactionary, based on the title track to his debut, American by God's Amazing Grace, an Iraq war anthem written from a soldier's point of view ("I really don't care why Bush went into Iraq/I know what I done there/And I'm damn sure proud of that"), and based on the proudly anti-PC, Saddam-baiting, immigrant-baiting "Does That Make Me Bad?" ("I think country singers/Oughta shut up and sing/But I hope they freakin' fry Saddam Hussein...And I think you ought to learn a little English/If you make America your home"). Such sentiments will certainly get him noticed, particularly because the title track is autobiographical, but there will be an audience who will peg him as just another run-of-the-mill country singer who's conservative in every sense of the word, from his politics to his music. And that's too bad, because American by God's Amazing Grace is a damn good hard country album, a very good debut from this Arkansas native. With his deep twang, Stricklin places himself in the tradition of Merle Haggard, Randy Travis, and Alan Jackson, cut with a little bit of the outlaw attitude of Hank Jr. and Waylon Jennings, and while that doesn't make for a new sound, there is a freshness to his music, thanks to both the sturdy songs, their clean, straightforward production, and the conviction in Stricklin's performance. There's nothing fancy about American by God's Amazing Grace, but in an age when country is either too campy, thanks to the Big & Rich Muzik Mafia, or way too earnest in adhering to country traditions, there's something refreshing about hearing Stricklin serving up straight-ahead country with heart and no frills. Get beyond the headline-grabbing sentiments of the opening two cuts, and you'll find one of the most satisfying country debuts of 2005.

American By God's Amazing Grace, Luke Stricklin
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