Comparing John Corbett’s self-titled debut to Peter Gallagher’s 7 Days In Memphis, in which the O.C. star and his eyebrows recorded a dead-serious set of blue-eyed soul songs that ended up sounding like the theme-night performances from that other popular Fox show, is probably a bit unfair, but it’s not like anyone else remembers that both Maureen “Marcia Brady” McCormack or Wings’ Crystal Bernard tried to make the sitcom-to-country-star transition, so that’s the best available comparison to make. Not only does it work out well for Corbett, best known for his roles on Northern Exposure and Sex and the City, in that his album is the rare effort from an actor—though Corbett insists that he’s given up acting to pursue music full-time—that doesn’t immediately reduce to an embarrassing Hey, It’s That Guy! Y’know, From That Show! stunt performance, but it also demands the admission that his album is legitimately not bad. While Corbett doesn’t have much of a range—he never quite settles into his attempted falsetto on “Simple Man”—his voice has definite presence and a weathered quality that recalls John Hiatt and Robert Earl Keen. Rather than focusing on his vocals, then, producers Scott Miller and Tara Novick (with whom Corbett toured while trying to land his first acting gigs) wisely choose to emphasize the strong melodic hooks and engaging, roots-rock sound that would fit well on both mainstream country and AAA radio formats. That songs like “Revival,” “Simple Man,” and “Best Move” would make for good singles (in terms of marketing, the choice of the relatively banal “Good To Go” as the first official single is dodgy), however, has as much to do with the fact that they’re straightforwardly good country songs as with the production values. And, ultimately, it’s the songwriting—though Corbett didn’t contribute to the songs, he chose some typically great work from the likes of Jon Randall (who co-wrote Brad Paisley’s “Whiskey Lullaby”), Jessi Alexander (fast making a name for herself as the new Matraca Berg), Hal Ketchum, and even Bernie Taupin—that elevates John Corbett above a good cut of recent country debuts. Whether or not Corbett will be taken seriously remains to be seen, but this debut album makes a solid enough case that he should be.
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