Arecord without an ounce of fat on it, Old Things New finds traditional-leaning country star Joe Nichols at the absolute peak of his craft. Having made a name for himself with maudlin ballads like “If Nobody Believed in You” and novelty cuts like “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” Nichols has greatly refined his song selection for his sixth studio effort. There’s a real maturity to the songs here, with “We All Go Home” and “Believers” recalling some of his more “serious” hits without the cloying sentimentality and “Cheaper Than a Shrink” and “Man, Woman,” showcasing his sense of humor in songs that don’t reduce to simple throwaway ditties.
The title track serves as something of a mission statement, with Nichols bringing a contemporary polish and point of view to a staunchly traditional country aesthetic. That the production remains grounded in twangy guitar, fiddle, and pedal steel instrumentation even when he pushes in other directions (the punchy hooks and slinky rhythm track on opener “Gimme That Girl” would have made that song a better lead single than “Believers,” while the seductive “This Bed’s Too Big” is a surprisingly effective bit of jazz-inflected crooning) gives Old Things New a real clarity of vision. “It’s Me I’m Worried About” an “The Shape I’m In” bring clever twists to some standard genre tropes, while closing “An Old Friend of Mine,” on which Nichols portrays a man giving up drinking, stands to become a pure, stone country classic.
There simply isn’t a weak song on the record, and Nichols hits every mark in his vocal performances. While his early singles were fairly anonymous and made it hard to tell him apart from the likes of Blake Shelton, Josh Turner, and Brad Paisley, here Nichols continues to emerge as a distinctive vocalist, balancing the swallowed vowels and heartbreak of vintage George Jones with Paisley’s good natured humor. In addition to showing real personality, Old Things New finds Nichols demonstrating focus and a sense of purpose.