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James Otto, Days of Our Lives (Mercury Nashville)
James Otto's debut disc, Days of Our Lives, is the kind of country disc that a classic rock fan can love. Devoid of the syrupy strings and thick production that can mar some records -- even he best of them -- and avoiding the cowboy hat paraphernalia of country radio favorites Kenny Chesney and Toby Keith, Otto's record is for the most part a straight forward rock record, sounding as much like something from Greg Allman or the Marshal Tucker Band as anything you might hear on current country radio. The Washington state native opens his disc with a couple of brawling rock tunes, the Allman Brothers-meets-Marshall Tucker blues of "Long Way Down" and the crunching slide-guitar driven "Gone". The songs set the tone for Days of our Lives, announcing that Otto is not going to settle for the parameters that modern country radio has set. "Miss Temptation" is another bluesy, brawling number –- possibly the most straight-on rock song on the record. But songs like "Misspent Youth", "Song of the Violin" and the dreadful "The Ball", which turns a rumination about a misplay at a high school football game into a paean to the singer's child, demonstrate the kind of banal sentimentality that kills not just too many country ballads, but far too many pop songs, as well. Over all, though, Days of Our Lives is a solid debut and James Otto is a country singer with promise.