Hot Apple Pie is the latest stop on the long road for country journeyman Brady Seals. A nephew of Jim Seals (the Seals of Seals & Crofts) and country hitmaker Dan Seals, Brady got his first big break in the early '90s as a member of Little Texas, and he shepherded them through some big hits before leaving for a solo career halfway through the decade. After a couple of mainstream country albums, he had a rootsy independent release with Thompson Street in 2003, which featured Mark "Sparky" Matejka on lead guitar. Following that, Seals and Matejka hooked up with bassist Keith Horne and Trey Landry for Hot Apple Pie, whose 2005 eponymous debut is the opposite of Thompson Street. Released on Dreamworks Nashville and produced by Richard Landis, Hot Apple Pie is a big, slick, knowing contemporary country album that dabbles in a little bit of everything not just because the bandmembers can, but because they want to see what sticks. So, the album begins with the goofy novelty of "Hillbillies," which has a bit of the ironic proud-to-be-a-redneck vibe of Big & Rich (it surfaces again toward the end of the album with "Redneck Revolution," a slow bluesy crawl so contrived it makes the opener seem easy), then rolls into the bouncy retro country-pop of Al Anderson's "We're Makin' Up." Soon after that, the group dives into a slick power ballad with "The Good Life," before revamping the Band's classic "The Shape I'm In" as breakneck bluegrass, complete with alternating lead vocals, then hauling out Willie Nelson for a duet on "Slowin' Down the Fall." The latter two moves, along with the Rodney Crowell co-written "Annabelle (Arkansas Is Callin' You)," indicate that Hot Apple Pie have good taste, serious chops, and genuine credentials as pure country musicians, smart enough to know not just what makes for good country music, but smart enough to know what makes it onto country radio. And that's the problem with their album -- half of it is really good, smart, fun country, the other half is pandering to the whims of radio, whether it's on the aforementioned "Hillbillies" or such lumbering midtempo numbers as "Everybody Wants to Dance With My Baby." The rest of the album doesn't just prove that Hot Apple Pie are better than those tunes, but that they know that they're slumming it with songs like these. Hopefully, one of the stronger songs here will be Hot Apple Pie's breakthrough hit and then, on their next record, they'll loosen up and deliver the loose yet sharp modern country album that this appealing but muddled debut suggests they can make.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
feat: Willie Nelson