Collin Raye strikes me as an archetypal Nashville singer: he started out country and rootsy, but soon became a victim of the pop-crossover style that infects so many modern country Top Forty careers. From his robust early records, he went on to become a soft pop crooner, but after he fell off the charts, came back to his country roots... at least a little bit. Here's a quick look at his work...
Collin Raye "Direct Hits: The Best Of Collin Raye" (Epic, 1997)
Sensitive-guy country-pop, which ranges from England Dan-like saccharine to relatively vigorous, upbeat -- but horribly belabored -- numbers. This best-of covers his work from 1991-97. I think it's pretty terrible, both from a Pop and a Country perspective.
Collin Raye "Love Songs" (Epic, 2000)
The cheesiest, synthiest ballads they could cull from Raye's various albums, all gathered in one place at one time, along with his Waylon Jennings cover (see below) and one new song, "And I Love You So," which drifts to dreary England Dan-ish depths. Not my cuppa tea.
Collin Raye "All I Can Be" (Epic, 1991)
(Produced by Jerry Fuller & John Hobbs)
Pretty nice, actually. The first album by this country crooner take the now-standard career path of oh, so many Top Country performers: nice, twangy debut, followed by an steady descent into cheesy, overproduced pop ballads. So here's the good stuff: a bunch of catchy, reasonably rootsy country tunes, sung with a rich, robust style with the guitars kept tastefully clean and the melody and simple, memorable lyrics in the forefront. Sure, later he'd get stuck in the inexorable, inevitable rut of recording tons of overwritten, overproduced, un-country goop, but I kinda like him here! Recommended.
Collin Raye "Extremes" (Epic, 1994)
The album title may refer to Raye's teetering between uptempo, Southern rock flavored rompy-stompy macho tunes and super-wimpy weepers that summon the spirit of Seals & Croft every time I hear 'em. A couple of nice corny, old-fashioned ballads stand out -- "A Bible And A Bus Ticket Home" is a genuinely fine weeper; "Angel Of No Mercy" is okay, his cover of Waylon's old hit, "Dreaming My Dreams With You" is also kinda nice. This disc didn't exactly bowl me over, though it's still way better than what was to come later in his career...
Collin Raye "I Think About You" (Epic, 1995)
Collin Raye "The Gift" (Epic, 1996)
Collin Raye "The Walls Came Down" (Epic, 1998)
This disc did pretty well on the charts, but it's kinda cheesy and overly pop... if yuh ask me. Many of these songs, like "Corner Of The Heart," are unbelievably, unrepentantly sappy. Again: warmed-over England Dan AOR, much? Nothing here that really grabbed by attention or made me wanna sing along, though I will concede that "Make Sure You Get It All" is a pretty good weeper.
Collin Raye "Tracks" (Epic, 2000)
(Produced by Dan Huff & Collin Raye)
Super-shamelessly, unapologetically "pop." Scarcely any pretense at country affectations, and certainly little outright twang, just one whiny, synthed-out romantic ballad after another. I mean, okay, there are a couple of exceptions: "A Long Way To Go" sounds kind of like the Eagles, and the social issue song, "Harder Cards" has a vaguely Springsteen-y sheen to it (even if it paints a completely improbable picture of a cop who tampers with evidence and covers up a homocide in order to spare a domestic violence victim from prosecution as a murder... yeah, right!) In general, though, the songwriting on here is pretty dismal and by the numbers, and his pretty-boy vocals take no risks and show little depth. Disappointing, considering the potential that many saw in Raye when he first came along.
Collin Raye "Counting Sheep" (Sony Wonder, 2000)
A children's album with several spiffy originals and a surprisingly goofy appeal (at least on the more upbeat songs...) The album is a little inconsistent: some songs, like "A Mother and Father's Prayer" (a cheesy, religious duet with Melissa Manchester) and several of the slower tunes that follow seem more geared towards yuppie parent rather than little kids, and are also just heinously stuffy-sounding, when you get down to it. So what's up with the album's openers, the super-goofy (and kinda fun!) "Counting Sheep" and equally nonsensical "I'm Gonna Love You," both written by one R.E. Orrall? Those songs are fun! They emit more passion and conviction than anything Raye's done in years... So why didn't he sustain the mood throughout the rest of the album? I guess these pop crooners tend to be wrapped up in their own grandiloquent artistry and a little out of touch with what kids actually wanna hear... I think the silly stuff is more fun than the preachy God song lullabies and would-be Disney soundtrack ballads that follow... But nobody was asking me, were they? Worth it for the first couple of songs; the rest of the album's kind of a snooze.
Collin Raye "Can't Back Down" (Sony, 2002)
Collin Raye "Twenty Years And Change" (Aspiron, 2005)
(Produced by Collin Raye, Various)
A chart-topper about a decade ago, Collin Raye has -- like many '90s stars -- fallen off the Nashville radar in recent years. True, he's getting kinda long in the tooth, but it'd be hard to tell from his voice, which is still youthful and thin, evoking old Eagles records just as much as his poppy rock-country arrangements do. Raye's middle-agedness comes out more in his phrasing, which isn't as supple and loose as it once was, although this is a pretty high-energy record, all things considered. Although this set doesn't offer much that's likely to get him back on the charts, longtime fans should be pleased -- Raye sounds earnest and impassioned, and though this is obviously a near-indie-level production, it's a solid offering for the style. He probably regrets the bad timing of "Hurricane Jane," a light novelty song about a tempestuous girlfriend that might not go over so well now that global warming has really kicked into high gear out on the Gulf Of Mexico. Raye's inexplicably lethargic cover of "Let Your Love Flow" also seems pretty unnecessary, but other songs proceed on a steadier course... If you're one of those folks who still has a copy of Raye's greatest hits laying around somewhere, you might wanna pick this new disc up as well.
Collin Raye "Selected Hits" (Star Pointe, 2007)
(Produced by Teddy Gentry & Michael Curtis)
It's interesting to see the continued diversification of how country stars deal with a rapidly changing entertainment landscape... Collin Raye, whose career peaked in the mid-1990s, has started up his own label and put out a new 6-song EP aimed straight for his hardcore fans, that so far is being sold exclusively through Walmart. There are two new songs, both weepers: the patriotic "Soldier's Prayer" and "Quitters," about a paraplegic man who refuses to give up hope, along with four old hits recorded live with the Salt Lake Symphony. There's also an amiable recorded message from Raye where he touts the creation of the Star Pointe label, and discusses each of the songs. Like many 'Nineties Nashville stars, Raye has apparently decided to do an end run around the country radio establishment and provide records directly to his fans. Sounds like he's having fun so far! (For more info, check out: www.collinraye.com)
Collin Raye "A Family Christmas" (StarPointe, 2008)
Collin Raye "The Power In You" (StarPointe, 2008) (CD & DVD)
A live contemporary gospel recording made with the Salt Lake City Symphony...
Collin Raye "Never Going Back" (Time-Life, 2009)
(Produced by Michael A. Curtis)
Big in the 1990s, Top Forty crooner Collin Raye is one of many former Nashville headliners who have fallen off the radar, but still find a niche with their fans. This album opens with the driving, power-chordy title track, which sounds quite a bit like "Dirty Laundry"-era Eagles; the retro vibe continues with covers of '70s oldies such as Air Supply's "Without You" and "Stuck In The Middle With You..." The rest of the album is mostly ballads, with Raye pouring himself into the songs, singing in a high-pitched, amazingly youthful voice. Interestingly, the most vital -- or at least most original -- material may be a pair of gospel songs, in which the singer's technical oompf gives way to a more open, earnest presentation, where sincerity counts more than sizzle. Worth checking out if you liked his old stuff.
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