When you think of Nashville tastemakers, the name of pop/rocker Jude Cole may not be the first that comes to mind, but it was Cole who saw Clay Davidson at a party thrown for him by Virgin Records Nashville and became his sponsor. A more likely choice would be Virgin Nashville's President and CEO Scott Hendricks, who actually drew up the contract and co-produced this, Davidson's debut album. What the two heard, one supposes, was an artist capable of heading in the more hard rocking direction Nashville seemed to have decided on for turn of the century country music. "Makin' Hay," the album's lead-off track, has a definite Lynyrd Skynyrd/Allman Brothers Band sound, and by "I Can't Lie to Me," the second track, there is an acoustic guitar (courtesy of Cole) reminiscent of the Marshall Tucker Band. Later on, Wet Willie vocalist/harmonica player Jimmy Hall guests on "Doghouse Rights." Not all of the album sounds like '70s Southern rock, by any means. There are ballads of romantic devotion with a steel guitar chiming in and songs that are more honky tonk than rock. But Unconditional stakes out a crossover sound that reflects Nashville's hunger to extend its reach beyond its base. As the vehicle of this marketing strategy, Davidson is a likely enough candidate, with a sturdy baritone that can be gruff or smooth, and as a writer or co-writer on seven of the 11 tracks, he seems a willing participant. But there's nothing here that's particularly striking from a creative standpoint.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann