Newcomer Joe Nichols bows on fledgling Universal South with an expressive, emotive vocal in league with some of country's finest.

Newcomer Joe Nichols bows on fledgling Universal South with an expressive, emotive vocal in league with some of country's finest. "The Impossible" is an inspiring tribute to life's possibilities, "Joe's Place" is a likable, easy-rollin' neighborhood slice o' life, and "She Only Smokes When She Drinks" is rendered with confidence. Nichols is world-class on such intelligent, stone-country ballads as the subtle title cut, the very Gosdin-esque weeper "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet," and romantic "Can't Hold a Halo to You." He also lightens things up with authority on the funky "Everything's a Thing" and Tom T. Hall's "Life Don't Have to Mean Nothin' at All." Then he swings like Haggard on "Cool to Be a Fool" and nails the jazzy "You Can't Break the Fall." This guy is absolutely going places.—RW