This review was originally published at The 9513 in February 2011.
Songwriters: Larry Cordle and Amanda Martin
As a cut on Trace Adkins’ well-received X in 2008, “Sometimes a Man Takes a Drink” sounded like a brawny, neotraditional album highlight. In the hands of songwriter Larry Cordle, it sounds like a certifiable country-bluegrass classic – the rare modern composition that would have been right at home on an album by George Jones or the Louvin Brothers half a century ago. In a word, it sounds timeless.
Of course, Cordle has been involved in the writing of several such songs, from “Murder on Music Row” and “Highway 40 Blues” to “Mama, Don’t Forget to Pray for Me” and “Jesus and Bartenders.” What his list of songwriting credits doesn’t reveal is just what a fine singer he is; for that, you’d have to look to any of the handful of albums he has released over the past two decades. The newest one, due out March 15, is Pud Marcum’s Hangin’. “Sometimes a Man Takes a Drink” is (nominally) its lead country single.
Serving as his own producer, Cordle treats this ode to the dark, all-consuming power of alcohol gently, dressing his voice up in humane shades of fiddle, mandolin, steel, and Dobro. Even with several of the same instruments in the mix, the difference between this and the earlier cut of the song is considerable. Adkins’ voice boomed as he if he were the one rendering judgment, the arrangement fairly pounding to match him; Cordle’s voice curls and cracks with the humility of the once-and-future sinner, bent acoustic notes matching bent intentions and broken promises on the addict’s winding path. The Cordle treatment works its way even further into the heartbreak of the lyric, making this one of the most compulsively listenable downers since “Whiskey Lullaby.” Bet you can’t play it just once.
Single or no, this recording might as well not even exist as far as mainstream country radio is concerned, and that’s a shame. The FM dial would be a lot more interesting if it regularly made room for anything half as beautiful.