Skip to content

Album Review: “Familiar Stranger” by Mark Wills

December 7, 2008

Familiar Stranger cover

3.5 Stars


In every generation of the genre there are figures that arise that help define a newly established sound for the masses. For traditionalist there is Josh Turner and Dale Watson, for neo-traditionalists there is Brad Paisley and Blake Shelton, for southern rock/country there is Toby Keith and Montgomery gentry, but for pop/country lovers there is Rascal Flatts and this guy, Mark Wills who finally brings out his first new project sense 2003 off the Tenacity label, Familiar Stranger.

Mark’s new project is serves its title well because it offers a look into the Mark Wills that became a sensation in 1996 and never looked back until radio decided to ditch him in 2006 in favor of newer faces. After his #1 hit “19 Something” Mark seemed to drop off the map of country music and literally became a stranger to the genre’s growing fan base. After Mercury Records let him go Mark tried a hand with Equity Records only to fall short again and end up stretching his creative muscles to try and put together an alum that maybe wouldn’t make him much, but would re-establish the pure and enjoyable sound that he was able to spread across the genre in his more successful years.

I will warn readers right now, if you don’t like the modern sounds of Rascal Flatts or any artist related to them, this may not be your cup of tea. Much of this project hails to Mark’s famous contemporary quality and absorbs the pop/country mix quality that helped him score hits like “19 Something” and “I Do (Cherish You)”. The first few singles are a testament to that. “Days Of Thunder” is a high energy song that has Mark looking back on the year he turned 18 and the enjoyment of taking risks and stretching boundaries in younger years. The more recent single “The Things We Forget” incorporates this same high energy pop/country sound for a slightly different message referring to the important lessons and small things in life that we seem to forget because everything is so sped up these days. These songs recollect on the sound and quality that made Mark’s career and pretty much spell out the quality of the entire album.

Another single was also released in 2007, “Take It All Out On Me”, which is much more electric than the other two releases. Also instead of focusing on life, it focuses on love, a concept that is the strongest part of Mark’s presentation in this album. “Take It All Out On Me” has Wills telling his woman to forget about the day and just let him ease her pain, or better yet have her take it out on him. The rest of the album’s love songs are not as rugged as this one, but they all bring out the quality in Mark’s vocals that made him who he is. Slow songs have always been Mark’s more attractive pieces, take the album’s best cuts “Her Kiss” and “What Are You Doing”. Both songs focus on the concept of burning love for another woman, but in both cases they are woman that are unattainable due to Mark’s character not the woman’s feelings.

Even though Mark relives his quality voice in these slow songs, it’s when he tries to take advantage of his high energy performance that was included in his singles and build off of it that takes away from this project over all. Several tracks try to create a more rowdy, country/rock feel that just doesn’t seem to fit Mark as well as he thinks it does. “Redneck’s Anonymous” not only misses out on being as comedic as it tries to be, it comes off too loud and trying for Mark’s usually smooth and flowing voice. On the same note Mark tries to be a rebel in “Crazy White Boy” where he looks at his life and comes to the conclusion that he’s always going to push things to the edge, to his mama’s disappointment. Completing the trifecta is “Panama”, which again tries to hard to make rock/country work for Wills where it doesn’t. What Marks attempts to put off as enjoyable and rowdy actually doesn’t really show much of any of the distinguishing quality that his voice has. All these songs have the high energy that Mark loves, but not the sound that Mark needs.

Mark Will’s new album is a little bit of a roller coaster I guess you could say. Most of it consists of quality pop/country songs that showcase the purity and power that Mark has behind his voice. However about a quarter of the project consists of rock/country songs that try a little to hard to showcase a sound that doesn’t always work for Mark no matter how much he wants it to. What this album does do for Mark though is live up to its title. It helps bring this familiar stranger back into the spotlight and although it won’t get the sale Wills will need to bring his career back to life, it reminds fans that he is still here and he’s still got it no matter what radio thinks and provides more contemporary country fans with a nice breath of fresh air.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: