Joe Nichols finally had a big hit with his 2005 album III, released nearly a decade after his first independent records. III found Nichols loosening up a bit, delivering the very funny "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off" which was also a strong song outside its quips, strong enough to become a genuine pop Top 40 hit after it topped the country charts. Such success can be hard to follow, and for his 2007 follow-up Real Things, Nichols does beat a bit of retreat, deciding not to expand upon that slyly rowdy hit but instead returning to the ballads that served him well for his first two records. He still kicks up the tempo on occasion -- most notably on "Let's Get Drunk and Fight," a sequel to "Tequila" that's nearly as laugh-out-loud funny, but also on the speedy "Comin' Back in a Cadillac," a tune that's more traditionally country-rockin' yet also on the anthemic "It Ain't No Crime" -- but by and large Real Things is a gentler affair, reminiscent of his second album, Revelation. However, there is a difference here: that record often seemed to cruise by on Music City gloss where Real Things digs deep, sounding deeply felt no matter how smooth it gets. Or no matter how sappy it gets, either, since there are several songs that flirt with being just a bit too emotional, whether it's the nostalgia of the title track or the autobiography of "Ain't Nobody Gonna Take That from Me." What saves these songs is the warmth of the production and, above all, the richness of Nichols' singing. He can find the truth in a cliché and is compelling even in the quietest moments, of which there are many here. Real Things is an album designed for contemplation or relaxation, and it works as both, sliding into the background or rewarding close listening. Some may wish that Nichols partied a little harder in the wake of "Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off," but even those naysayers will likely find this to be his most consistent album to date -- and those who prefer his smooth, comforting voice to his taste in traditional country may indeed find this to be his best album as well. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
Track samples provided courtesy of iTunes
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