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RJ Daniel

Somewhere West of Laramie – 2017 (Red Mesa)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

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CDs by RJ Daniel

The debut release of Northern Arizona-based R.J. Daniel is mix of cowboy tunes, classic country and a touch of bluegrass with mostly good results. Daniel is at his best with the western tinged cuts, understandably considering his southwestern U.S. roots. Most impressive is the title track, an engaging rendition of Dave Ramey's tale of a free spirit in search of fulfillment ("His friends all call him crazy, they think he's lost his mind/He's trading what's up ahead, for everything he's left behind"). Other highlights are the Infamous Stringdusters' bluegrass-tinged "Don't Mean Nothing To Me" and a western swing take on the Sammy Kahn/Jule Styne standard "Five Minutes More."

Daniel is equally proficient with traditional country such as the opening "Pass Me By," the 1973 hit for Johnny Rodriguez written by Tom T. Hall's younger brother Hillman Hall, and "Uptown Downtown (Misery's All The Same)" with the classic Harlan Howard/Robert R. Peterson honky tonk observation "I'm just hangin' round a better class of losers/It don't matter if you drink beer or champagne" from the Mark Chesnutt 1992 recording.

The most effective ballad is "Don't Let Me Hold You," composed by Dewayne Blackwell (best known for Garth Brooks' "Friends in Low Places"). Less effective are the somewhat maudlin "For All We Know" and "I Can Do It In My Sleep," but even on these Daniel's smooth vocals make the performance enjoyable.

Produced by Joel Wachbrit the pleasant vocals from Daniel are nicely supported throughout particularly by Tom Corbett (mandolin), Craig Stull (guitars), Doug Livingston (piano, pedal steel) and Candy Girard (fiddle). With Daniel's strong vocals and nicely chosen covers, "Somewhere West Of Laramie" has appeal to devotees of western music and traditional country.