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CD REVIEW: Michael Lee Austin - Labor Pains
By Jon Stewart - 03/03/2006 - 02:41 PM EST

Artist: Michael Lee Austin
Album: Labor Pains
CD Review: Michael Lee Austin’s newest album, “Labor Pains”, has weaknesses that are found on too many Country albums produced today. One of the biggest complaints about Country Music is the overuse of backup singers. Far too many Country songs overindulge the artist’s (or producer’s or record label’s) fear of vocal inadequacy by having three or four singers harmonizing with the headliner, not only on the chorus but also on the verses. Another failing of Country music artists is the absence of the realization that to get a large following, the music must be danceable while standing out from others.

For this CD, you will look forward to the backup singers to add depth and amplitude to what is basically a voice that doesn’t have the resonance, power or appeal of singers such as Dwight Yoakum, Tim McGraw or Toby Keith. We are introduced to Mr. Austin’s vocal style on the first track, “Labor Pains”, a song about complainers and their effect on others. His voice is full and deep but not significantly rich or expressive enough to put his mark on this song as well as many of the others.

On “Another Fine Mess”, Mr. Austin goes where so many Country songs have gone before, a scoundrel who can’t stay out of trouble, with an adequate musical treatment from a top notch band. “A Little Bit of Love” is a straightforward Country song that features a nice chorus but suffers from an underdeveloped musical statement; ultimately, nothing stands out musically or vocally.

Few of the tunes are strong candidates for the dance floor. “Fiddle in the Middle” tries to get the appropriate tempo and topic but misses completely because of the unfortunate instrumental arrangement and bland subject matter. Other songs have potential but few, if any, will be played for the dance floor due to a lack of the irresistible presence needed to get some one motivated to do a progressive two-step.

Many of the songs on this CD have a homey, down-to-earth element that are found in the works of Craig Morgan or Tim McGraw but are never fully realized on this album. Neither the songwriting, the singing nor the musicianship for this CD are on a level that will make this artist a household name. This album is not amateurish or poorly produced; instead, it offers a new voice in Country Music that may be developed and refined to someday occupy a niche in this large music segment. Grade: C+.

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