Phil Stacey is yet another would-be success story in a long line of American Idol rejects. A contestant in Idol's sixth season, Stacey never quite managed to find his feet, struggling with his musical identity until finally being voted off with little fanfare or sense of loss. Now this son of a Pentecostal minister seeks to establish his own worth in the market with his self-titled debut album on Disney's Lyric Street Records. Billed as a country album, it's obvious that his intentions are to further toy with various blues/rockabilly notions and hopefully discover a niche from which to begin a successful career. He doesn't quite manage that, however.
Stacey's weakness doesn't lie in a lack of proper hooks or sufficiently "home-style" lyrics. He carries his conservative roots with all the expected poise of a modern country artist, and track after track we're barraged with a succession of lines desperate to establish his credentials as a worthy heir to Rascal Flatts' throne. The flawed component is, ironically enough, Stacey's vocal performance. He isn't as bona-fide southern as his promoters would love for him to appear, regardless of his apple pie persona. His vocals are too clean and eloquent to give the impression he was certainly going for. Even though this album was arranged by some of the heavyweights in the industry, Stacey's own execution of the sufficient material hurts his chances of making a lasting impression. He doesn't have Gary LeVox's whiny range or Kenny Chesney's rough-around-the-edges charm.
A couple tracks are cute winners, though. "'Round Here" is a peppy gospel-tinged anthem that, while not entirely gaining its momentum before fizzling out, manages to sum up what Stacey's American Idol supporters probably appreciated about him in the first place. Album closer "Identity" isn't as delightfully profound as it pretends to be, but it's a step in the right direction if Phil manages to keep his career alive long enough to record a sophomore effort. Its lyrics are silly at best, but once the secular market gets tired of promoting yet another Idol alumnus, songs like this one will definitely become his bread and butter. "Identity" is perfect for Christian radio.
The genre of country is slowly being reduced to a shadow of its former substance - a world of pop songs backed up with steel pedal guitars and fiddles instead of electric instrumentation - and Stacey's debut doesn't defend his musical heritage. He adds to the murky collective of cheapened quality and "cash flow versus caliber" product. But I'll set criticism aside. Stacey's splash may not be a big one, but it's far from a disaster. Is he setting himself up to be respected as an artist in the grander scheme of the industry? Absolutely not. Has he helped to slow the current crossover of country into mainstream pop radio? Quite the opposite, I'd say. What he has done is released a debut album that is already generating a bit of buzz with the general public and will definitely be the soundtrack to many a teenager's summer; which, when I think about it, is probably enough for now.- Review date: 5/20/08, written by John Wofford
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