Mark Wills

Looking for America

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Major labels don't have much loyalty these days; Mark Wills was reminded of that fact in 2004, when Mercury Nashville dropped him despite the fact that his 2002 single "19 Somethin'" was a number one hit on the country singles charts and his 2003 album And the Crowd Goes Wild made it to number five on Billboard's country albums chart. The problem, as Mercury saw it, was that And the Crowd Goes Wild didn't contain any major hit singles. So And the Crowd Goes Wild became Wills' final album for Mercury. But if Looking for America is any indication, ending up on an indie label was a good thing for the Tennessee/Georgia singer. Wills' Mercury output could be too slick and processed for its own good, whereas Looking for America has more of an edge and is a lot more organic sounding. Wills is still commercial, but this 2011 release doesn't have as much of the Nashville-marketing-meeting flavor that he often had in the late '90s/early 2000s. And the album has its share of country-rock gems that deserve to be hits. "Phantom of the Opry," for example, is a nostalgic ode to the Grand Old Opry stars of days gone by, while "Crazy Being Home" is a poignant description of a young Iraq War veteran who is trying to readjust to life back home in the United States. And equally poignant are the title song (which laments the decline of the U.S. in the 21st century), "Rather Be" (which describes a romance that is fading), and "Smokin' Gun," a clever song about infidelity. "Smokin' Gun" is performed from the perspective of a man who suspects that his wife or girlfriend (who has been unhappy in the relationship) is cheating, and when she comes home smiling and radiant, that's the smoking gun; that's when he knows that she has found someone else and is planning to leave him. Not everything on Looking for America is a total gem, but even the songs that fall short of exceptional are at least decent. And all things considered, Looking for America may very well be Wills' most memorable and inspired studio album -- at least as of 2011.

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