Seventies band The Eagles successfully blended country and rock and reached a massive audience. Of all of the members of the band though, Don Henley has had the most successful solo career, and given us hits like The Boys Of Summer. He has just released his first solo album of new material since 1989’s The End Of The Innocence, and it is a beauty with 12 tracks, most of which are absolute winners. The album has been produced by former Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch, who gives it a slick and polished finish. Henley co-wrote most of the songs with Lynch, and there are also a couple of covers on the album.
Cass County takes its name from the county in East Texas where Henley grew up, and while it pays tributes to his roots, its influences are varied. The songs range from country to power ballads to rock, and explore themes of aging and lost love, but a couple of tracks here would be a perfect fit on an Eagles album. Henley has roped in a number of guest singers to add texture to the songs, from Merle Haggard to Mick Jagger, and from the Dixie Chicks to Alison Krauss and country superstar Dolly Parton.
The opening track is Bramble Rose, which begins with the distinctive country twang of a steel guitar, but its melancholic lyrics are given a richness through the featured vocal stylings of Miranda Lambert and Mick Jagger. Merle Haggard joins Henley on the bittersweet and mournful The Cost Of Living. Waiting Tables is a beautiful ballad co-written by former Eagle Timothy B Schmidt, and its gentle harmonies and sweet melodies are reminiscent of the Eagles at their finest. Another standout track that would fit comfortably on an Eagles record is the sweet Words Can Break Your Heart, with guest vocals from Trisha Yearwood.
The standout track is the anthemic rocker That Old Flame, a cliched number about trying to rekindle that old flame of lost love, but beautifully enhanced by Martina McBride’s vocals. Similarly, there is a great duet with the distinctive vocals of Dolly Parton on When I Stop Dreaming.
The closing track is the defiant Where I Am Now which finds Henley seemingly comfortable with his life and achievements, when he sings “I feel at home in my own skin.”
Cass County is a fine record, and let’s hope it’s not another fifteen years before Henley releases another album.
Label: Past Masters
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television