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Curtis Wright

Curtis Wright – 2016 (Voxhall)

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

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CDs by Curtis Wright

Curtis Wright is a songwriter, who has composed some notable country hits for other artists, like Shenandoah ("Next To You, Next To Me") and Ronnie Milsap ("A Woman In Love"). Wright, who was one-half of Orrall & Wright and lead singer for Shenandoah and Pure Prairie League, also is known for session work.

Wright released a solo collection (also entitled "Curtis Wright" on Liberty Records in 1992), but his work as a collaborator has prevailed since then. His new work shows that he can interpret others' work as well as write his own.

Given his songwriting chops, it's a departure for Wright to have recorded so many songs written by others. He leans heavily on Shawn Camp, a fellow Nashville composer, who has now found considerable success as lead singer for The Earls of Leicester. Camp's "Tunnel, Tunnel" benefits from strong support from Rob Ickes' Dobro work, but admirably displays Wright's straight-ahead country vocals. "Til I'm Dead And Gone," another Camp tune mostly associated with Randy Travis, similarly shines with Wright's easy, but rich vocals.

If liner notes are to be believed, Wright's second solo effort had a long gestation period, but it was worth the wait, and the manifest commitment to the material. Wright wrote or co-wrote three of the songs ("Waitin' On My Heart To Break," co-written with Brandon Rickman of The Lonesome River Band, "Mama Prayed For Me" and "Going Through Carolina," co-written with Jerry Salley. Each is a solid testament to country music's heritage and roots. These elements are not always shown in high relief on mainstream country albums, but they are deeply woven through the fabric here.

The familiar touchstones of country receive their just due: trains ("Tunnel, Tunnel"), Southern living ("Going Through Carolina") and spirituality (Ronnie Bowman's "I Will Someday" and "Mama Prayed For Me"), but these common themes are heartfelt and richly delivered. Then again, whiskey often has a hand in loss and redemption, and the disc takes on the ills of panther's breath ("Rainy Day Whiskey" and "Listening to Whiskey and Talking To Walls") with the wisdom of a life well-lived.

Wright's collaborators enrich this collection. Ickes, who layers any project with a sweet, but biting Dobro line, is a strong presence. Rhonda Vincent meshes particularly well on her duet with Wright on "Never Mind." Jimmy Metts provided a strong production hand, and the fidelity and arrangements admirably match Wright's writing and vocal talents. "Curtis Wright" may have been a long time coming, but it's a wonderful collection of country music.