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Big & Rich strike back

Hold on to your cowboy hats because country’s craziest duo, Big & Rich, has just released its fourth studio album, Hillbilly Jedi.

Despite the title, much of the record showcases the duo’s more serious side. Take, for instance, the lead single “That’s Why I Pray.” Beneath their loud, over-the-top, honky-tonk, rock star images, Big & Rich are still country western singers and the track touches on some of country’s core values. The song features an unusually humble refrain, as John Rich croons about “begging for forgiveness” and “trying to make a difference” in a troubled society where family values and traditional homes seem to have fallen by the wayside. Few know that before pairing up with Big Kenny, John Rich was a founding member of the group Lonestar, which brought us such hits as “I’m Already There” and “My Front Porch Lookin’ In.”

Although “That’s Why I Pray” has been a radio hit and opened at number 24 on the Billboard Country Music Charts, some of Big & Rich’s other down-tempo songs fail to achieve the same success, and the album gets bogged down with tracks such as “Last Words” and “Never Far Away”. The latter never goes anywhere, and the title of “Last Words” is appropriate considering the song drags on like a funeral dirge.

But Big & Rich fans should not despair. The majority of the album is packed with the rock-and-roll cowboy tunes that are the pair’s bread and butter. The country party boys who brought us “Save a Horse, Ride A Cowboy” prove they have not lost their swagger with tracks such as “Rock the Boat,” “Get Your Game On” and “Party Like Cowboyz.” Yes, folks, you know it’s a Big & Rich album when “cowboys” gets spelled with a “z.” Fans of country music will be cranking up these party anthems at tailgates this fall and, depending on where you live, you might even hear one of these tracks at a bar or nightclub. Traditional country music connoisseurs sometimes criticize Big & Rich for integrating country with rock and rap, but the end results are songs it is hard to resist stomping your feet and moving your body to.

Some of the most innovative tracks on Hillbilly Jedi are “Born Again,” which features Bon Jovi, and “Get Your Game On,” featuring Cowboy Troy.

Whereas artists such as Garth Brooks, The Eagles and more recently Brantley Gilbert have created a well-established fusion of country and rock-and-roll, the latest and still developing integration of country and rap has proved controversial. Along with Big & Rich, artists such as Jason Aldean have experimented with verses of what can only be described as rap in between choruses of more traditional country music. Some fans have been hesitant to accept spoken word into their conceptions of the country genre. But hey — Big & Rich have been breaking rules and pushing boundaries from the moment they stepped onto the music scene, and that’s what keeps fans coming back for more.

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