Compared to Kern River
, Chill Factor
is streamlined, constructed primarily of originals and given a clean, gleaming production designed with the radio in mind. In the case of the sweetly swinging “Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star,” it took him all the way to the top of the charts -- the last time he’d achieve such a peak in his long career -- and it’s a deserving final number one hit, bearing enough of a trace of Western swing to be of a piece with his classic hits, yet given an unmistakably modern spin. All of Chill Factor
has this serene, clean production -- even when the tempo starts to kick upward, things stay reserved (in the case of “You Babe,” it threatens to mummify the performance but this is a one-time stumble) -- and while this sound dates the album somewhat, it’s also easy to hear beyond it, to recognize that this is one of Haggard’
s strongest collection of songs of the ‘80s, a record where he remains a peerless craftsman and has yet to succumb completely to the streak of bitter nostalgia that sometimes tainted his records of the ‘90s. Here, he’s clear-eyed and perceptive, sometimes pining for the past, but decidedly alive in the present.