Collin Raye's '91 debut opened with mandolins, acoustics and Vince Gill harmonizing on Harlan Howard's plaintive "All I Can Be (Is a Sweet Memory)."
Six years on, the low-key approach is a memory and Raye sounds more suburban than country. Four bonus cuts include a cover of Journey's "Open Arms," revealing power ballads as the mawkish models for "Little Rock" and "In This Life." Epic should have included "On the Verge," but a CD-ROM section eats up space with interviews and 30 seconds of every song on Raye's first four albums. As "What the Heart Wants" says, "It ain't the mind that calls the shots 'round here." It's the bottom line. Too bad. Too many ballads and wedding songs here end in the inevitably poofy codas. "Not That Different" is the touchy-feely extreme: "I laugh, I love, I hope, I try, I hurt, I need, I fear, I cry!" In "That's My Story," the card-playing hubby's hen-pecked and oh so square. Clearly, hell-raisin' "country" singers ain't what they used to be. Fortunately, "Little Red Rodeo" has giddy-up to spare. "My Kind of Girl" flirts with rock, but while Raye says he likes to "color outside of the lines," the musical evidence proves otherwise.
This is meticulously crafted Nashville pop, and Raye's vocal chops, honed in Reno casino lounges, are technically awesome.