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Album Review: “Sunset Man” by James Otto

April 8, 2008

Sunset Man

For the past few years newcomers have been storming the grounds of country music with power balled, reality show and myspace exposure, cross genre nightmares and limited playing space provided by small labels who can’t keep up with the competition. It’s about time an artist came around to raise the bar for modern artists and to show that it takes more than the standard of popularity to make a great album.

James Otto has done just that. After a poor start a few years back James returns after teaming with his MuzicMafia buddies in an attempt to produce attractive and effective material that would help his career skyrocket. By far James has proven to be the most effective Mafia member as far as producing a sound and style of his own without stretching the boundaries of country music to the point of snapping. Like his buddies Big & Rich, James hails from one of the Big Four, Warner, who have recently become probably the least successful of the major labels in country music, with the fall of Nashville Star winner Chris Young and the falling popularity of Faith Hill and Big & Rich. Thus they needed James to produce something to put them back in place and he has.

The album begins with the rocking “Ain’t Gonna Stop” which not only shows his fun loving side and his connection to the MuzicMafia, but brings rock and country together quite nicely. The two sounds more blend than compete against each other for effectiveness here and the result is actually quite catchy. Also what a way to start off an album than a song about keeping going through the ups and the down and not stopping until you can’t go any farther. This is exactly what James had to do to get to this point in his career. Not only is he having fun, but he’s relating and belting it out like he’s been doing this for years. Following what will be the second single is the first one from the album “Just Got Started Lovin’ You” which keeps the listener hooked by slowing it down a bit but still creating an up-tempo, toe taping feel to it. This top 10 hit shows a more soulful and romantic side of James voice and slows things down just enough to lead the listener into the ballads that would follow.

“For You”, one of only two songs that James didn’t contribute to writing, really brings out the feeling and sincerity that James is able to contribute to a performance. The song puts James in the position of being so in love with a woman that he would literally do anything for her. However, he is taken by surprise when he is forced to face the one thing that he would never do for her, let her go and move on. The chorus brings the emotion to its peak and brings James to a point where he sounds almost like he could break down right there at the microphone. The submissive state shown by Otto in this balled is uncharacteristic which makes it so much better because it shows the truth and power behind it all and a side of James that no-one ever expected. It’s also an impressive note that James can put so much power into a song that he didn’t write.

“These Are The Good Ole Days” returns to the toe tapping rhythm that works so well with James. It could almost be portrayed as a trademark sound for him actually. James takes a whole new stand tackling the concept of living in the past and instead of producing a tear jerking and wishful balled about revisiting those old days he decides to live in the present and the here and now. Otto approaches the all-to-common concept of country songs and twists it around to celebrate today, the good ole days, and stop living in yesterday, or as he says, “Ain’t gonna live my life through no picture frame”.

Probably the most powerful performance on the album as far as ballads goes is “Where Angels Hang Around”. It may take a little research but the song is creatively written about a father forced to deal with hearing the one word that could possibly destroy his chances of enjoying his daughters life, cancer. James puts himself in the shoes of the dad driving his daughter to Memphis and in the process relating the city to being the home of angels and a safe sanctuary for his daughter to be in her situation. The reality is that he is bringing her to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, of course the famed hospital for cancer research. James vocal power in this song shows true feeling and care for the children forced to go to St. Jude’s and brings the issue to a whole new level of meaning and relativity for those who may not fully understand the pain of knowing your child is a victim of the disease.

The title track “Sunset Man” brings the mood back up a bit in one of the most creative heartbreak songs I’ve heard in a while. As he has done before on this album, James ditches the typical slow and sad tune of heartbreak balled in the genre and goes for a simple, mid-tempo feel that proves very effective as he puts poses as a man who remembers enjoying the sun with his wife but now sees it as a painful sight with her gone. “You Don’t Act Like Me Woman” is a totally different gear that shows the “louder” range of Otto’s performance quality without going to rock. It should be noted that this is one of three Jay Demarcus produced tracks, which explains why it is a significant shift in mood and tempo. The song surrounds a couple who are struggling in a relationship and the man fails to feel like his girl’s man and lacks the love from her that he desires as well.

Crossing the boundaries again is “When A Woman’s Not Watching” which has Otto bringing the possibility of a cheating man on the move into play. The basic moral of the song is that a man may seem loyal and proper in front of his lover or in front of his family, but ultimately when they are alone and have no-one to criticize them it is then that their true character comes to life. Although a man seems like a happy and devoted individual to his lover, that isn’t always the case as James expresses in several situations.

“Drink & Dial” is among the more entertaining songs on the album and again reveals the MuzicMafia influence on James by adding in a unique drinking song based on how some people make those regretful and angered phone calls when they have one to many. “Damn Right” would seem like a filler, however James again does a nice job of taking a unique song and putting it to good use by placing himself in the character of a man who is ready and willing to do just about anything because he has just lost his girl so he’s holding nothing back.

Finally “The Man That I Am” adds a nice western tinge to the album and creates a rough and ready love tune. A good listen of this song will make any woman submissive because it has a man throwing out every concept and aspect of powerful and true love that one could think off.

In today’s country music James shines a bright star in a dimming sky. His vocal maturity and ability shows a lot of experience and understanding in his voice and his entertainment value is through the roof. Sunset Man raises the bar as high as it can go in the genre today for new artists and bends every boundary just enough to make it effective but not to much so that the concept is overdone and lost. Talented and educated song choices and writing and experienced production and performance make this an album deserving of admiration especially in today’s genre. It may not be the perfect album, but it shines above his other MuzicMafia assiciates thus far.

 

4.5 Stars

 

Produced by: John Rich and James Otto (tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10), Jay DeMarcus and James Otto (tracks 3, 8, 11)

Tracks:

  1. Ain’t Gonna Stop
  2. Just Got Started Lovin’ You
  3. For You
  4. These Are The Good Ole Days
  5. Where Angels Hang Around
  6. Sunset Man
  7. You Don’t Act Like My Woman
  8. When A Woman’s Not Watching
  9. Drink & Dial
  10. Damn Right
  11. The Man That I Am
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One Comment leave one →
  1. March 10, 2009 11:28 am

    hey check out my husbands website he has been singing since he was little him and his partner we both in the military one in vietnam the other army hope you enjoy and sign guestbook thanks

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