Randle Chowning

Hearts on Fire

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If there was a heaven for music critics, it would be a place where the word "cheesy" would be perfectly acceptable as a complete review. Inside these pearly gates, checks would be routinely exchanged whenever an album attaches itself permanently to this one-word distinction. It would be a profitable place to be, whatever the attitude of the angels, thanks to the enormous amount of cheesy records turned out in pursuit of the profits a hit can provide. Hits can be and will be cheesy, true. As a member of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter Randle Chowning was absolutely no stranger to the real hit parade, a fact that must have been more than obvious to the A&M A&R department that provided him with this opportunity to record under his own name. The countrified Steely Dan grooves had pleased fans of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, so Chowning makes sure this is part of the program, resulting in tracks that will satisfy listeners who are curious about what a fusion of the Eagles and jazz fusion would sound like. Chowning also tries a lot of other approaches, just about everything except asking guitarist John Tropea to play fewer notes. It is an effort that has the combined nervous energy of a waiting room full of singers waiting to audition, so anxious to please that some sort of familiar riff is always hovering in the background. Musical exercises take place on this record that would stun a neophyte, so accusations of amateurism would be totally out of place. Complicated time signatures and rhythmic arrangements, tight unison playing, and dense vocal harmonizing are all delivered with more than the skill required to pass an audition; this, after all, was a recording session paid for by a major label so everything is perfectly in place. All that is needed is one decent song that someone, anyone, would want to listen to more than once. The opening "Gettin' Higher" would have been a target during the Ronald Reagan administration's "War on Drugs," the nicest thing that can be said about this album -- and Reagan himself for that matter.

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