Review

Of all the Big & Rich protégés -- and as of 2008 there are too many to count, with only a capo or consigliere of the MuzikMafia being able to keep track -- James Otto initially seems the closest to Kenny and John, as his second album, Sunset Man, kicks off with "Ain't Gonna Stop," the kind of party-pumping anthem that B&R have managed to turn from refreshing raunch to boring BS in just under five years. Otto gamely spits out Big Kenny's mock-macho lyrics -- including the de rigueur referencing to rocking out at an "Ott-to show" -- seemingly happy to be given another shot at the big leagues after having his 2004 debut, Days of Our Lives, sink without a trace, but fortunately for him and the rest of us Sunset Man doesn't dip all that often into MuzikMafia burlesque (toward the end of the album there's "Drink & Dial," a far better and funnier attempt at this blustering boogie). Instead, it quickly settles into a mellow, romantic groove, lingering on love songs. When the tempo does upshift, it's only a modest bump, as when "These Are the Good Ole Days" eases into second gear with its tuneful unhurried nostalgia, which helps give the impression that Otto is a reflective sort, whether he's ruminating on times passed or heartbreak (or on the easy-rolling title track, both). It all adds up to one of the sweeter MuzikMafia-related projects, one that has some genuine warmth and heart, and if it takes a boneheaded Big Kenny shuffle to sell this very endearing record to a wider audience, so be it: James Otto deserves a second chance and a little bit of pandering has never tarnished a good mainstream country album like this anyway. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

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