March 22, 2004 12:00 PM

James Otto

This promising but unpolished Washington state native sounds like some unlikely combination of Kenny Rogers, James Taylor and Eric Clapton, serving up a mixture of country and pop overlaid with a soulful feeling for the blues. On his freshman effort, though, Otto’s material isn’t always the write stuff. At their best, these tunes—six of which the singer had a hand in writing—are intelligent and engaging, but sometimes they tend toward the prosaic. The title track never overcomes its soap-opera philosophy: ‘We only go around just one time/So embrace ’em, don’t waste ’em/For these are the days of our lives.” Otto, who opened for Shania Twain on tour last year, is better drawing on personal experience for “The Ball,” about a traumatic mistake in a high-school football game, and “Lowdown on the High Life,” based on the drinking problems of his late paternal grandfather. Musically, the bluesier Otto gets, the better he sounds; the fairly rowdy “Long Way Down” brings out the best in his rhythmic, emotional style. The near-gospel approach of “Sunday Morning and Saturday Night” flatters him too.


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