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Rob Baird

Wrong Side of the River – 2016 (Hard Luck)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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CDs by Rob Baird

Some artists seem to have a natural affinity for the music they make, one that's devoid of posturing, pretence or any of the other affectations that often accompany a life in the limelight. Based on the success he attained early on, Rob Baird seems to have struck the perfect balance between confidence and credibility, with a sound that appeals to mainstream country fans and those that lean towards its Americana offspring.

Having written songs for Rick Brantley, Will Hoge and Gary Nicholson, he's clearly carved a niche in both arenas, a fact that's helped him establish a presence on either side of the divide. His first two solo albums, "Blue Eyed Angels," recorded at the tender age of 21, and its follow-up, "More Than Willing," garnered ample kudos and television exposure, setting the stage for what's undoubtedly his strongest set yet.

"Wrong Side of the River" sticks close to the basic Nashville template, boasting songs that seem tailored to radio and rabid fans alike. "Mercy Me" and "Mississippi Moon" are the clear potential crowd pleasers, rowdy, robust barn burners tailor made for those prone to amp up their air guitars and add their voices to the sing-along choruses. The sharp double-time tempo of "Pocket Change" sounds like a back porch version of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love," but it would likely have fit well in the hands of one of the fictional artists at the center of the show "Nashville."

Likewise, the steady pace of "Oklahoma" sounds like a highway anthem, spurred on by the freedom felt behind the wheel when the open road beckons and delay is simply not an option. Baird's ballads are equally compelling, particularly "When I Go" and "Run of Good Luck," each boasting tender trappings that seem well in sync with Baird's own trajectory.

Baird's essential instincts have clearly served him well, making "Wrong Side of the River" a potential sleeper of an album, one likely to be seized upon in a slow, but steady progression. He shows real potential for mining populist appeal, aided immeasurably by songs that are both tender and tenacious. Baird's bravado suits him well.