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Matt King

Five O'Clock Hero – 1997 (Atlantic)

Reviewed by Walter Allread

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CDs by Matt King

Warm of voice and sure of hand, Matt King puts his quieter material across with the aplomb of great balladeers like Keith Whitley. At 30, King may not sing with their authority, but give him time: This Asheville, N.C., native's debut, produced by Gary Morris, spotlights an engagingly natural talent. Writing or co-writing its 11 numbers, King imprints them with burnished voice and polished acoustic guitar. Seasoned hands like dobroist Jerry Douglas add folksy warmth to highlights "September Rain," "A Woman's Tears" and "Perfect Mistake."

The title cut, a tribute to the working man, adds rock dynamics and retains its folksy charm - but also reveals the programmatic, please-everybody tendencies of many debuts. King's less effective on uptempo and "big" numbers, especially the muddled "I Wrote the Book," the contrived "Destiny," the swaggering "Roots" and the awkward "Pray for Hardwood." The latter almost derails the album with baritone intonations of such pearls of wisdom as "If you stand in line too long you'll lose your turn."

King may be an overeager apprentice who polishes plastic as if it were priceless. If the woodsy wise man of "Hardwood" advised him to distinguish oak from veneer, let's hope King's advisers appreciate patina as well as polish.