Usually, American Idol contestants knock out their albums quickly, releasing their post-TV debuts a matter of months after the conclusion of a season. Not Casey James. A finalist on 2010’s Season 9 -- aka the last one to feature Simon Cowell -- James didn’t get around to releasing his eponymous debut until the spring of 2012, a virtual eternity in reality TV show years. This is a sign that the powers that be at 19 believed they had something special in Casey James, that he was more of a recording artist than a television star, so they took the time to get the album right…or at least as right as it can be. Certainly, Casey James doesn’t have a note out of place throughout: every element has been vetted and polished, every song targeted at an individual audience. Sometimes, James gets a little gritty but he’s not really a down-home kind of singer: he’s a roots singer whose roots extend about as far as Stevie Ray Vaughan, a roots singer who exudes authenticity through his carefully faded denim, meticulously styled beard, and slight hint of gravel in his singing. Despite copious amounts of Strat work threaded throughout the record, James isn’t a blues player, he’s bluesy, adding bent flourishes and fluid Hendrixian rhythms to songs that suggest smooth open road and late nights in sports bars. Nominally, this is contemporary country music, but it’s never as insistent or muscular as new country and it’s far tidier than most modern blues, so despite the evident care within its construction, Casey James falls through the cracks, never quite belonging to any camp that could call it its own. And yet that’s kind of the appeal of Casey James: for as commercial as it is -- and make no mistake, this was designed to be a hit wherever it may be accepted -- there is the soul of a musician evident beneath the heavy gloss, the sense that James is attempting to reshape his favorite sounds for a wide audience. Perhaps the record would have been stronger, or at least a little more individual, if it was a little less polished, but it’s hard to fault a former American Idol for favoring slick sounds, particularly when he's found a way to gamely indulge his own passions within this cool, clean setting.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine