Clay Blaker

Rumor Town

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On Clay Blaker's fourth album, he amply displays why he has been one of George Strait's favorite writers throughout Strait's recording career. Blaker wrote or co-wrote eight of the ten songs here, and nearly all of the songs meet the high standards of excellence and timelessness to which Strait has usually subscribed. Musically, Blaker's Texas Honky-Tonk Band is a crack country outfit that crosses stylistic boundaries. John Carroll plays a hot electric guitar on the title track, whose great groove and story of new love against the odds make it a likely hit for some savvy mainstream country artist. Tommy Detamore's crying steel guitar drives the traditional country ballad, Buck Owens' "Heart of Glass." And on the album's only throwaway song, the Tracy Byrd co-write "Livin' Every Day Like It's Saturday Night," the arrangement from producer and surfing enthusiast Blaker can only be described as surf country. So if Blaker has the songs and the band and the producer's ear to put it all together, what's missing? Unfortunately, it's the voice. Blaker's is smooth and pretty -- it's pleasant enough, but lacks the distinctiveness of the singers who have had hits with his songs. Nowhere is this fault more apparent than on "I May Be a Fool." Mark Chesnutt's version of the song is dark and haunting, but try as he may to duplicate the arrangement, Blaker's voice just can't carry the song down to the depths of loneliness like Chesnutt's does. Nevertheless, the timeless quality of much of Blaker's music made this album a breath of fresh air in the tradition-deficient late-'90s country scene.

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