Clay Walker’s image as a hunky Lone Star Romeo was indelibly stamped upon country radio a decade ago. Here, this past master of the suave twang makes a strong comeback bid with 2007’s Fall, an album displaying a marked maturity over earlier Walker efforts. As before, Clay’s version of country emphasizes soft-lit balladry over anything gritty or rebellious, but his singer’s repertoire deals with a wider emotional spectrum this time. “’Fore She Was A Mama” is an affectionate look at a parent’s free-spirited youth, for instance, and “It Ain’t Pretty (But It’s Beautiful),” is an affirmation of life’s joy amidst its heartaches. Walker’s fondness for Spanish-accented tunes is reflected in “Mexico” (a wry postcard from down South) and “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” (a duet with the late Tex-Mex superstar Freddy Fender, the man who made the song a hit over 30 years earlier). And, of course, there are plenty of tender pledges of love and devotion here, among them “You’re My Witness” and “She Likes It In The Morning.” Fall returns Walker’s caressing drawl to the spotlight with greater depth of feeling ready for some grown-up romance.

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