Aligning himself with the MuzikMafia for his second album, 2008’s Sunset Man, was a shrewd move for James Otto as it did help raise his profile, but it had the side effect of suggesting he was a bit of a boogie doofus along the lines of Big & Rich. Perhaps realizing this, and fortified by his behind-the-scenes songwriting success on Jamey Johnson’s “In Color,” Otto ditches the MuzikMafia on 2010’s Shake What God Gave Ya and throws himself into smooth country-soul with the assistance of Paul Worley, producer of the Dixie Chicks’ smashes Fly and Home, going so far as to bring in Ronnie Milsap for a duet on the closing “Good Thing’s Gone Bad.” That Milsap connection is meaningful, as his soulful country-pop of the ‘70s and early ‘80s provides a clear template for Otto, no matter what the rocking opener “Are Ya with Me” suggests. That is a bit of a bid for radio play, as is the sentimental calculation of “Soliders & Jesus,” but take those out of the equation and Shake What God Gave Ya rolls smooth and easy, locking into a cool relaxed groove early on and never leaving it. Otto gets the feel right but he also writes a batch of enduring songs that sound familiar upon first spin and grow stronger upon repeated plays. Since nobody in modern country is attempting this style, Otto automatically wins some points for attempting something different, but Shake What God Gave Ya is better than a stylistic novelty: it’s a fully formed, seductive country-soul record.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine