The year was 1981 when a young Neal McCoy entered and won a singing competition in Dallas, Texas. Sitting in the club that night was award-winning singer Janie Fricke. You see, Janie was on the verge of country music stardom (she won the CMA Female Vocalist of the Year award in 1982 and 1983) and was going to soon be leaving her spot opening shows for Grand Ole Opry member Charley Pride. Janie took to Neal and quickly introduced him to Charley. When she moved on, Charley hired Neal to be his opening act and the two toured the world together for the next five years.
Neal and Charley share a close bond, and when the former learned that no tribute album existed for the Country Music Hall of Famer, Neal put plans in motion to record and release Pride: A Tribute To Charley Pride. Available now, Pride encompasses 11 of Charley’s best-known songs, spanning many of his biggest hit-making years. Starting with 1969’s Hank Williams-penned hit “Kaw-Liga” on through to 1981’s No. 1 single “Mountain Of Love,” Neal pays tribute to his mentor with a lively set that honors his legendary work.
With producer Garth Fundis (who was actually a studio engineer present for many of Charley’s earliest recordings) behind the dials for a raw and live feel, Pride carries an electric quality bursting with life. The rollicking “Is Anybody Goin’ To San Antone” pounds to a roadhouse Honky Tonk beat while Neal pulls infectious twists at the end of the famous chorus. Having done this song, as well as “Mountain of Love” and “Kiss An Angel Good Morning,” live in his sets for years, Neal’s inspired performances continually spotlight his deep connection to the music. Darius Rucker joins Neal on “Kiss An Angel Good Morning” to trade verses and add sparkling harmonies while The Mavericks’ front man Raul Malo appears on “I’m Just Me” and Trace Adkins guests on the gentle “Roll On Mississippi.”
Neal’s a born entertainer who pours everything into each performance. And while up-tempo numbers like “It’s Gonna Take A Little Bit Longer” get toes tappin’, where he truly shines is on the collection’s slower songs. Relaxed tempos like those on the R&B-brushed, piano-based ballad “You’re So Good When You’re Bad” allow him to accentuate each word and draw them out for dramatic effect. “Someone Loves You Honey” pairs a classic Nashville Sound string arrangement with rising pedal steel and a well-timed, patient delivery.
Pride is old school country. Though styles range from urgent roadhouse to island-inspired daydreams (“You’re My Jamaica”), there’s a timeless quality to the project that pays tribute to tradition as well as its subject. The skipping, fiddle-laden “Just Between Me And You,” where Neal shows off some of his lowest range, demonstrates great subtlety as the jilted is left with no one else to confide in but the one who just left him. With little punches and lyrical jabs, Pride goes a long way in showcasing what’s great about the genre. Yet, it’s Neal’s profound respect for his trailblazing mentor that leaves the most prominent impression as he delivers a deeply-personal tribute with an undeniable connection to the music of Charley Pride.
Key Tracks – “Kiss An Angel Good Morning,” “You’re So Good When You’re Bad,” “Mountain Of Love,” “Just Between Me And You”