Billy Gilman's sophomore album shows off a growing expressiveness in his voice. But for a 12 year old, such a sophisticated instrument continues to beg the question of effective material. The in-betweenness of his age is exacerbated by his vocal maturity, and without traditional country topics (drowning one's sorrows in a six-pack of root beer would be too cute), the elements of his repertoire (puppy love, faith and inspirational role models) quickly become repetitive.
In small increments, however, the upbeat tunes and thoughtful ballads are joyful and effective. The opening pair, "She's My Girl" and "Our First Kiss," are infectious candy-floss ò la the Jackson 5 and Osmond Brothers. The inspirational "Elizabeth" features a moving chorus that combines closely packed harmonies with Gilman's soaring lead to produce a memorable hook.
Gilman's pokes at swing ("You Don't You Won't") and blues ("Shamey, Shamey, Shame") are more Broadway showtune than solo Stray Cat, and as the album unwinds, the continuous adolescent longing ("I've Got to Make it to Summer" "She's Everything You Want") shows the limits of his subject matter. Still, Gilman's extraordinary voice and showmanship make it hard to dislike any cut on its own.
Producers Don Cook, David Malloy and Blake Chancey season their work with flecks of steel guitar, but the result is steadfastly mainstream pop. This isn't an issue for country radio (which has already made the stretch), nor for Gilman's fans. Those who liked his first LP will certainly like his second.