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Emerson Drive

Countrified – 2006 (Midas)

Reviewed by Eli Messinger

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CDs by Emerson Drive

With Richard Marx having ceded his chair to Nashville producers (including Alabama bassist Teddy Gentry), Canadian sextet Emerson Drive's third release turns to sounds that are indeed more "countrified." There's more fiddle, banjo and tight multipart harmonies, even as the string-lined ballads and electric pop-rockers retain the band's core crossover appeal. The album's opening riff will remind many of The Go-Go's "Head Over Heels."

The songs, from a variety of Nashville songwriters, are modern fare that may have you tapping your toe and singing along with the radio. The band's instrumental and vocal prowess put a fresh coat on well-worn themes of living a contented life, broken hearts and simile-laden love songs. Most impressive is Brad Mates emotional lead vocal on the beautifully written "Moments" and Danick Dupelle's acoustic flat picking on "Testify."

This is a highly talented band with a clear, populist vision for their music. The production is smooth without becoming dispassionate, and the performances have a lot more heart than the perfunctory output of Nashville's studio-players. This may still be too pop for some country fans, but it's certainly high-quality country-pop.