Emerson Drive

What If?

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Emerson Drive is contemporary country at its poppiest, a band that is country in name only, with a sound and sensibility much closer to the mellow Californian country-rock of the '70s or the slick MOR of the '80s than to Music City. After all, this is a band that, for its second album, 2004's What If?, has placed all its chits on producer Richard Marx, who is best known for his post-Eagles adult contemporary hits of the late '80s and is a pop craftsman, not a honky tonker. To country purists, this naturally means that Emerson Drive is not something to be taken seriously, and if you're looking for straight-ahead country, these guys don't deliver. But that doesn't mean they're bad. In fact, they're very, very good, a mainstream pop band with appealing tunefulness and a mild country flair. Marx is a perfect fit as producer, and brings out their strengths, whether it's their endearing everyguy persona or good harmonies, selecting a tight set of 14 songs (including four co-written by Marx) in the process. It's a modest album, yet it's also sturdy and well constructed, growing in stature after several plays. Above all, with What If? Emerson Drive proves to be reliable, delivering a record that may not progress far from the band's debut -- it follows the same blueprint, only delving a little deeper into pop -- but is certainly its equal in terms of quality, and is a solid second effort.

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