Billy Ray Cyrus – I’m American (CD Review)
1. Runway Lights 2. We Fought Hard 3. Keep The Light On 4. Stripes and Stars
5. I’m American 6. Old Army Hat 7. Nineteen 8. Some Gave All
Original Release Date: 28 June 2011
Label – Walt Disney Records
UPC – 050087170318
Time – 32:30
Cyrus pays tribute to American servicemen and women
I’M AMERICAN is the 12th studio album and second on Walt Disney Records for Billy Ray Cyrus. It finds him some twenty years on since his 1992 debut album SOME GAVE ALL paying tribute to American troops. That album was certified 9x Multi-Platinum and had a 17 week consecutive run on the Billboards charts, a record for a debut artist. The origins of this new project, produced by Buddy Cannon go back to a 2009 USO tour of Iraq and Afghanistan where he performed ‘Some Gave All’ to both small and large crowds, be it, in foxholes or in hangars.
The opening up-tempo track ‘Runway Lights’ (Written by Josh Kear, Mark Irwin and Jameson Clark) with its vibe would not be out of place on a Bruce Springsteen record. It relates a story of a student who has graduated from Virginia Military Institute and joins the navy to become a pilot, something he had always dreamed off. He misses his hometown girl and folks back home and now he’s dreaming of that homebound flight and touching back down in Tennessee. It is the first single from the album and was choosen as the theme tune for a reality show on TLC called “Surprise Homecoming”. A sneak preview on the 8-part series was broadcast on Memorial Day on May 30th, 2011 and begins on July 11th (see video). Billy Ray’s role is to be the go-between creating the surprise between returning service personnel and their families.
The excellent ‘We Fought Hard’ (written by Heather Morgan, John Kennedy and Ross Copperman) is a heartfelt ballad which is full of raw emotion. Cyrus plays the role of the younger brother, who growing up, had been toughed up by his elder sibling. Thinking they are made of steel they both head out together for battles in desert lands. The losses and victories hold many tales but as the snare battle drums ring out there is one story he never thought he’d have to tell returning to meet his mother at the airport gate: Mama we fought hard / We fought real / But you tried to tell us different / We thought we were made of steel
The rocky ‘Keep The Light On’ (written by Walter Brandt, Bill Brandt and Keith Volpone) finds a returning soldier ready to celebrate. He’s ready to call up the boys, his folks and get reacquainted with his lover.
The mid-tempo patriotic and tender number ‘Stripes and Stars’ is a conversational piece between a soldier and his wife. It features Amy Grant as Cyrus’ duet partner. The acoustic guitar pickings are reminiscent of Christopher Cross’ ‘Sailing.’ A lonely soldier, halve a world away, misses everything about his wife. Raising a family and with a young son beside her it doesn’t quite seem fair they are kept apart. But then they are reminded what all the sacrifices are for with the words: I see the hope it brings / and what it really means / that flag is so much more
‘I’m American’ is a full on, guitar laden rock-blues high energy track – “This country made me who I am / I thank God I’m American”.
The pace slows with ‘Old Army Hat’, a wonderful country story-teller with soft percussion, fiddle and banjo much in evidence. Back in 1945 a soldier returns as one of seven who survived in his platoon. As the years progress his grandson, then a child, recalls the burning flags and draft cards and laughing at him like a relic from a distant past when grandpa wore his worn out hat. Fast forward to present day as a newly erected WW2 monument opens he witness’s two strangers salute his grandfather as a young boy tells him – “Sir, my daddy went to war and didn’t make it back”. That worn out hat has now found a new home with the “brave little soldier”.
With a gentle acoustic intro the emotion builds on ‘Nineteen’ as a young high school captain watches the twin towers fall and decides to leave native Tennessee behind and go play ball with the marines. A soldier is down and in need of rescue and volunteers to “take one for the team“, sadly to join to fallen. At the big parade there’s a drum roll on Main Street as a soldier makes his speech: “He could run, he could duck, he could throw, he’s the one that rescued me”
The deeply moving ‘Some Gave All’ penned by Billy Ray and his former wife Cindy Smith is a number radio programmers annually dust off to mark Remembrance Sunday. To add greater credibility and grit on this fresh treatment Cyrus calls up fellow country buddies and veterans Jamey Johnson, Craig Morgan and Darryl Worley to sing with him. Johnson served in the Marine Corps Reserves for eight years and Morgan was for 10-years on active service duty as a Fire Support Specialist in the US Army. Worley became an outspoken campaigner for the military visiting the troops in Afghanistan. His #1 song ‘Have You Forgotten?’ summed up the feelings and frustrations held by many Americans regarding the war.
Overall the production on this project, which for Cyrus is a labour of love, aims straight at the red white and blue and country radio could well be raising the freedom flag up on this one.