Steve Moakler isn't a country music rookie who came straight from a televised singing contest to Nashville with dreams of hit records and sold-out arenas. Moakler has been working in Nashville for close to a decade and releasing his music independently since 2009. His latest five-song effort finds him surrounded by A-list talent. Luke Laird is the producer, and Casey Beathard, Thomas Rhett, Gordie Sampson and Daniel Tashian are among the songwriters. Even surrounded with all that star power, Moakler is the unquestioned star of the show.
With three albums already under his belt, it's no surprise that Moakler's EP presents a skilled songwriter and a talented singer with a clear vision of what he wants to be. The played-out imagery of country girls and beer cans that's been written about ad mauseum in country songs is noticeably absent here.
"Steel Town" - a highly appropriate tune for the Pittsburgh native - moves a step beyond typical hometown odes by mixing in the good with the bad. Moakler and co-writer Beathard deserve credit for keeping the rough edges to the city intact. The idyllic, innocent small towns of so many country songs sound nice, but the city in this song is much more real and identifiable.
Moakler co-wrote all but one of the five songs. None have the same edge as "Steel Town," but neither are they throwaways either. "Suitcase," written by Laird, Rhett and Barry Dean, was one of the better singles of the year. "Love Drunk," an ode to infatuation, and "Jealous Girl" could have been sure-fire hits a decade or two ago, when the emphasis wasn't on making crossover pop hits. That comment is not to say that Moakler's music is dated. Rather, there are no nods to hip-hop or R&B. It's a straightforward, solidly country EP, and a good one at that.