Personnel: Dean Sams (acoustic guitar, piano, Fender Rhodes piano, Hammond b-3 organ, background vocals); Ilya Toshinsky, Biff Watson (acoustic guitar); Derek Wells, Kenny Greenberg, Michael Britt (electric guitar); Paul Franklin (lap steel guitar); Jimmy Nichols (strings, Hammond b-3 organ); Mark Hill (bass guitar); Keech Rainwater (drums); Eric Darken (percussion); Perry Coleman (background vocals).
Audio Mixer: Mills Logan.
Recording information: Blackbird Studio; Ocean Way, Nashville; Studio Works Productions.
Photographer: Jon-Paul Bruno.
Moving over to Shanachie Records, the reunited Lonestar continue the path they started on 2013's Life as We Know It on Never Enders. The title song alludes to the group's status as survivors: at the point this record hit the stores in 2016, the quartet was closing in on a quarter-century in the business. To their credit, Lonestar choose to embrace their age here, getting a little bit more mellow than they did on the 2013 reunion with Richie McDonald, a move that's tantamount to a basic-to-basics for the quartet. From the insistent arena-country anthem of the title track to the preponderance of shiny sentimental ballads, this feels like a revival of late-'90s country, but what makes Never Enders work isn't that it succumbs to nostalgia, but rather that it relies on craft. The songs may not be grabbers, but they're sturdy, melodic constructions given a lift by an enveloping, polished production that effectively softens the rougher edges of McDonald's voice; he's hardly gravelly, but he is nicely weathered. All of these elements help turn Never Enders into an album that feels radio-radio by the rule books of 1997, but that's its appeal: it is Lonestar celebrating who they are, from their country-pop roots to their middle age. Such warm self-acceptance turns this album into a cozy, pleasurable affair. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine