John Anderson has never gone away. The Eighties/Nineties country hitmaker behind songs like “Seminole Wind,” “Swingin’,” “Straight Tequila Night” and the immortal “She Just Started Liking Cheatin’ Songs” has trudged along in the 21st century, releasing four albums between 2001 and 2015 that largely landed under the radar. On Years, his first new studio album in five years, Anderson teams up with Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound team of songwriters, producers and session musicians for a subtle shift away from straight country to the type of veteran rootsy storytelling that Auerbach and company have refined over the past few years.
The mode fits Anderson’s weathered baritone well: On songs like “Years” and the Blake Shelton duet “Tuesday I’ll Be Gone,” the 65 year-old singer contemplates time-tested memories and the passing of time with grace and sensitivity. “There were people making bets that I’d be dead and gone,” he sings over pastiche pedal steel on the opening track. “Ah, but I’m still hanging on.”
The album is steeped in the type of retro flourishes Auerbach’s Easy Eye crew has become known for in recent years on breakthrough records with younger acts like Yola and Marcus King. Conceptually, Anderson’s latest recalls 2019’s Bring My Flowers Now, the sophisticated elder-statesman country comeback from Tanya Tucker. And if there’s any shortcoming of Anderson’s latest, it’s that unlike Bring My Flowers Now, which left room for levity and humor, Years can feel slightly one-dimensional in thematics; Nearly every song is a meditation or meta-commentary on how weary and road-battered Anderson is.
But for the most part, Years finds Anderson at his most convincing, and moving, since his hit-making heyday. It’s the type of record that should cast his entire discography in a new light, an inspired offering that shows a forgotten legend pulling off a new trick just as effectively as his old ones.