Building on the conceit of 2008’s Prayer of a Common Man, Phil Vassar offers another conceptual record with its 2009 sequel, Traveling Circus. Again, this isn’t a strict concept album as much as a big loose tent that houses songs about “Life” and “Lemonade,” a "Tequila Town," and high-school football stars turned transvestites. It reads wilder than it plays because Vassar’s default mode is the piano-driven power ballad, a sound that suits his letters to longtime loves and odes to a Middle America where “a real man loves his God and mama,” but a sound that can wind up seeming a little generic, too much drama over too-small songs. Vassar remains best when he’s looser, whether he’s writing a silly cross-dressing novelty like “Bobbi with an I,” romanticizing the glory days of piano men in “Where Have All the Pianos Gone,” or even reviving that ‘70s spirit on “Save Tonight for Me” (a dead ringer for Andrew Gold, apart from the fiddles and banjos), because that’s where he displays a genuine personality, one that’s a bit goofy and oversized, fitting the Traveling Circus of the album’s title. Unfortunately, Vassar leans a little too heavily on placid power ballads to give this a truly carnivalesque kick, but when he does take the time to lay back he’s as good as he ever was.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine