The Warren Brothers have a lean and clean rootsy sound, craft solid songs, harmonize sweetly, and have an appealingly self-deprecating sense of humor. They're even engaging on TV, where they have their own reality series, Barely Famous, on CMT and have judged on Nashville Star. So why aren't they more compelling on record? It's the same problem that plagues many Music City behind-the-scenes pros -- they have the skills and talent, but they don't have the presence that makes them recording stars. BNA/RCA Records tried to make the duo into stars at the turn of the millennium, but the public wasn't biting, as their singles and albums stalled in the middle of the charts. The label responded by dumping the brothers, but Nashville survivors that they are, they soldiered on, eventually scoring the TV gigs in the mid-2000s that helped turn them into country stars and, in turn, prompted the summer 2005 release of Barely Famous Hits, a compilation of 12 highlights from their three albums released between 1998 and 2004. Not all their charting singles are here, nor are all the good moments from their full-lengths, but most of the good stuff is here -- enough to be a representative compilation, a good introduction to the duo, one that will satisfy fans of the TV series. But for those who aren't familiar with Barely Famous, this cash-in comp -- which admittedly is one of the few times a cash-in is truly warranted -- is kind of puzzling. It's good, sturdy contemporary country, well-constructed, slickly played, occasionally pretty funny (as on "Sell a Lot of Beer," the best tune here), but it never is gripping. These are songs and performances that beg to be delivered by somebody with true on-record charisma -- somebody like Warren Brothers friend Tim McGraw, or even Dierks Bentley. Without that kind of forceful singer, the Warren Brothers' music is pleasant, but a little flat -- which may explain why they didn't have hits prior to being on TV, as well as explaining why their new fans are more forgiving of these polished, well-made, and rather predictable recordings. After all, now that the Warren Brothers are nearly famous, they're familiar, and fans are much more likely to accept such straight-ahead, nearly generic stuff like this from an act they already know. So, Nashville Star doesn't just work for the contestants, it works for the judges too! Just don't think that this is anywhere near as good as Miranda Lambert's Kerosene.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
feat: Sara Evans