John Rich

Son of a Preacher Man

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Given the gonzo strut of Big & Rich, it's easy to forget that John Rich is a Nashville vet, a former member of Lonestar who failed as a solo artist before striking gold in a duo with Big Kenny, another failed solo artist. Big Kenny's brawny vocals disguised how Rich was a blank, colorless singer and that lack of on-record charisma was apparent on Underneath the Same Moon, a solo record so bland it laid unreleased for seven years, not seeing release until 2006. By then, Rich was omnipresent on the country charts, not just as half of Big & Rich but as a producer and writer for many other artists, a quintessential behind-the-scenes kind of guy, instrumental in getting hits made. Anybody with that kind of pull would eventually want to strike out on his own, particularly someone who wrote a piece of braggadocio like "Everybody Wants to Be Me," one of the party tunes on his second solo album, 2009's Son of a Preacher Man. Such grandstanding is familiar territory from Big & Rich but Son of a Preacher Man isn't meant as B&R without Kenny: it's designed to be a piece of rabble-rousing populism, songs for and about the common man. Rich started down this path with his 2008 campaign tune "Raising McCain" as ground zero, dishing out silly simplistic puns over a set of pounding arena country, and he ramps it up tenfold here, lamenting the implosion of the auto industry on "Shuttin' Detroit Down," shoehorning Jesus into two different songs, and celebrating the Greatest Generation on "The Good Lord and the Man," asserting that "we'd all be speaking German, living under the flag of Japan" if we'd lost World War II. This lyrical nonsense goes a long way to explaining everything that's wrong with Son of a Preacher Man, how Rich trades logic (why would the Japanese want us speaking German, anyway?) for the lowest common denominator, pandering to an audience he's already won. This isn't merely cynical, it's often carelessly contradictory -- it's hard to slam Wall Street execs on one cut and then boast about your country bling on another -- and, worst of all, poorly executed, with all the tunes for the common man lacking the big hooks that made Rich's previous hits hard to resist. Pro that he is, he does manage to carve out a couple of moments that showcase his skills, and it's telling that they're the ones that stray from the empty bluster and drippy love tunes that characterize the album: the title track strikes a nice, relaxed Marshall Tucker Band vibe and the closer, "Drive Myself to Drink," is a fun big-band send-up. But even these are hampered by Rich's distinct lack of charisma, which is what truly sinks his faux-populist rhetoric, because there are few things less effective than a big talker with a small voice.

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