If an album as consistently strong as 2009’s Old Things New wasn’t enough to lift Joe Nichols off of Nashville’s B list, the relatively middling It’s All Good suggests that maybe he’s simply destined to remain a second-string artist. There are worse ways to spend a career, and if It’s All Good doesn’t build on its predecessor’s maturity in any meaningful way, it at least offers a couple of obvious choices for singles that should keep Nichols on country radio playlists for another year or two.
With his robust baritone, distinctive sense of phrasing, and strong neo-traditionalist instincts, Nichols is actually one of contemporary country music’s better vocalists. It’s his affable performances that make the material on It’s All Good a pleasant, if still somewhat slight, listen. He brings a real sense of warmth to “I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” even though the awkwardly phrased images he evokes make the song pale in comparison to the R&B standard of the same name: “You could tell me there’s two full moons hangin’ up there in the sky/That a thousand stars are fallin’ and a comet just flew by.” “The More I Look,” “Never Gonna Get Enough,” and the middling lead single “Take It Off” are all similarly rote, recalling the well-sung but lackluster material from Chris Young’s competent Neon.
The handful of better songs, then, serve as a reminder that Nichols is capable of far more than mere competence. The title track, which is politically relevant without resorting to didactic messages or pandering to the core country-music audience, finds Nichols sounding disarmingly like the great Keith Whitley and championing the use of simple pleasures as a way of retaining a sense of optimism in the face of adversity. “Somebody’s Mama” spins an unconventional but effective narrative that starts with Nichols getting a cover-up tattoo over an ex-flame’s name before delving into the reasons behind their split. It’s a smartly observed song stuck in the middle of an album that, while not actively hateful in the ways that the music of some of Nichols’s contemporaries can be, could stand a good deal more substance and personality. It’s All Fine Enough, I Guess would’ve been a far more honest and accurate title.