It could easily be argued that George Strait never made a bad album and they were all hits, but even among that remarkably consistent catalog, 1989's Beyond the Blue Neon stands apart from the pack, with half of its ten tracks reaching the country charts. Three of these topped the charts -- "Baby's Gotten Good at Goodbye," "What's Going on in Your World," and "Ace in the Hole" -- with "Overnight Success" peaking at eight and "Hollywood Squares," a novelty so sly and understated that it never cracks a smile, scraping the bottom reaches of the charts. An easy nature is one of Strait's signatures -- he never makes anything look difficult -- and he's never made music that seems as easy as this. That casual virtuosity can disguise just how virtuosic this album is. Strait hits the same touchstones as always -- Western swing, barroom ballads, honky tonk shuffles, laments, and two-steps -- but what's missing is that slight coat of gloss that always distinguished his singles on the albums after he turned into a superstar. Instead, this is all pure country -- lean and clean, punchy enough to be modern but never making concessions to the radio, without being slavishly faithful to the past -- and that vibe alone is enough to make this different. But what makes Beyond the Blue Neon exceptional, one of his very best records, is that every one of the ten songs is irresistible, whether galloping along like "Angel, Angelina" and "Oh Me, Oh My Sweet Baby" or wallowing in its misery like "Too Much of Too Little." This diversity makes Beyond the Blue Neon a classic barroom album, playing equally well as party music or music to drown your sorrows. In a career filled with good music, this is one of the truly essential records.