Back in 1999, Phil Vassar was a welcome breath of fresh air for country music. He was a solid songwriter who penned hits for Jo Dee Messina and Tim McGraw, and as an artist, his energetic, piano-laden songs like Carlene, Last Day of My Life, and Just Another Day in Paradise, cut through the din of guitar-wielding male singers.
Now, after a few albums that mostly failed to produce more than one hit single each, Vassar is trying to resurrect his heyday. Circus does have some solid tracks on it, including the passionate Everywhere I Go, with its unique lyrical phrasing ("I was living in that happy-to-be-right-where-I-am space/And God knows that's a hard-to-get-to kind of place"). John Wayne finds Vassar longing to be like the legendary John Wayne - hungry for the truth, faithful to his woman and a man of his word. Where Did All The Pianos Go is an appropriate musical plea.
The album is more like a roller coaster than a circus, a hodgepodge of solid tracks and fillers. She's On Her Way and Lemonade recall Vassar's early hits. Bobbi With An I is the out-of-left-field song about a man who dresses up as a woman that was released earlier this year, to middling chart success. Life, Tequila Town, and Save Tonight For Me come off as overly forced and bland, despite the decent lyrical content.
This is at least on par with Vassar's last album, but he still has far to go to recapture his former glory.