There’s a certain charm to Neal McCoy; a certain everyman approach and easygoing demeanor that translates easily through his voice. Throughout his career, hits like “Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On” worked to showcase the 53-year old singer’s laidback style, which is oftentimes accompanied with a sly wink. On XII, Neal’s first new studio album since 2005’s That’s Life, hummable melodies and feel good stories are the main attraction on a record just in time for the sunny days of spring.
Produced by Neal’s close friends Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert and Brent Rowan, XII wastes no time setting the album’s optimistic tone. “A-OK,” the project’s first single and opening track, starts with a warm whistle and finger snaps before breaking into a bright chorus. Blake and Miranda sing harmony vocals here, and their presence is immediately evident as the overall sound of XII is reminiscent of the pacing and crisp production of Blake’s current album, Red River Blue.
Neal knows his strong suit and expertly chooses songs that exemplify his happy-go-lucky personality. He is at his best and sounds the most comfortable on hook-filled, midtempo grooves like “Real Good Feel Good” and “Lucky Enough.” Neal co-wrote the latter, a good-natured southern rocker, about not needing much more than the woman he loves. This F-150 is worth its weight in gold/ with you here riding with me down a back road, he sings after referencing other guys with showy cars and bikini-clad girlfriends. On “Borderline Crazy,” mariachi horns and nylon-string guitars serenade Neal with thoughts of heading south of the border for a little R&R. Been countin’ margaritas, yeah, instead of sheep, he sings with a smile.
Neal’s sense of humor shows up often on XII. On the old-timey story song “Mouth,” (written by Jamey Johnson and David Tolliver), he relates a few embarrassing anecdotes that include asking a larger, non-expecting woman if she’s pregnant and also mistaking a he for a she when inquiring about a dance. I can stick my foot in my mouth, he sings with a vocal bounce before adding, I mean all five toes don’t even leave the heal sticking out. On “That’s How She Gets,” Neal employs a classic country reversal after describing the erratic behavior of his lady. That’s how she gets when I drink, he sings with a friendly nudge.
All these elements come together best on standout track “Crazy Women” (penned by hit songwriters George Teren and Rivers Rutherford). Neal’s voice reveals its soulful side over a strong acoustic rhythm section and simple, catchy guitar hooks while smoothly singing, Crazy women will love you better / Than any ordinary girl you find.
After a seven-year hiatus, Neal sounds refreshed and comfortable on XII. Even when the project does slow for songs like the downtempo ballad “Every Fire,” featuring Miranda on harmony vocals, Neal carries the tune with an engaging chorus and confident, ageless voice. Neal’s at the top of his game on XII as he returns with an album perfect for days spent in the sun.
Key tracks – “Crazy Women,” “Mouth,” “Every Fire,” “Lucky Enough”