Joe Nichols

Revelation

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After years of toiling away in Nashville, Joe Nichols finally had a lucky break in 2002, signing to Universal South, who helped turn his major-label debut, Man With a Memory, into a hit on the strength of the hits "The Impossible," "Brokenheartsville," and "She Only Smokes When She Drinks." As the album started to make waves, Nichols joined Alan Jackson on tour, and it was a good match. After all, Nichols not only is clearly influenced by Jackson, but as Revelation (his 2004 follow-up to Man With a Memory) illustrates, he's in a way the first of the post-Jackson contemporary country singers, learning honky tonk from the neo-traditionalist singer and sharing a similar affection for '70s soft rock. Jackson has stronger ties to hardcore country, whereas Nichols favors the softer stuff; even when there's a strong twang, as there is on the amiably catchy "Don't Ruin It for the Rest of Us," it's subdued and polished, almost functioning as texture. This is deliberately suburban country, country lacking a down-home spirit, country that's several generations removed from its rural origins, and while that will likely irk some listeners -- certainly fans who favor the rebellious spirit of Waylon Jennings, who Nichols covers on the title track, but possibly fans of Jackson, who remains quite traditional country despite the schmaltz and Jimmy Buffett duets -- there's also something to be said for the laid-back sounds of Nichols. He's an heir to the soft rock of the late '70s and early '80s, where even his faster songs sound more California mellow than Nashville slick, and he has a friendly voice that makes Revelation a pleasant listen. His Achilles' heel remains his selection of material. Most of the songs are professionally crafted, but professional to point of being generic, with only the speedier tempos -- in other words, the country-rockers -- standing out, primarily because they're sprightly and hooky. Even if the songs aren't memorable, Nichols is an endearing singer, which makes Revelation ingratiating, even if it isn't necessarily satisfying. He is a likable singer, good enough to make Revelation enjoyable, at least as background music, even if you suspect that he could deliver something much better.

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