Waitin' on Joe

On his Mercury debut, Steve Azar parlays his Delta roots and inspired songwriter's instincts into a potent mixture, without sacrificing his musical integrity—even though minimal pop sensibiliti

On his Mercury debut, Steve Azar parlays his Delta roots and inspired songwriter's instincts into a potent mixture, without sacrificing his musical integrity—even though minimal pop sensibilities sneak into the mix (in order to maximize appeal at country radio, which seems to crave the poppy stuff). A perfect example is debut single "I Don't Have to Be Me ('Til Monday)," which boasts a nice workaday lyric and some nice slide guitar work with an appealing singalong chorus. Similarly, the artist has a knack for punchy songs with crisp instrumentation tailor-made for radio (midtempos like "My Heart Wants to Run"). Even so, Azar seems more at home with such rootsy observations as the crackling "Damn the Money" and Springsteen-esque acoustic rockers "The Underdog" and the shuffling "One Good Reason Why." Azar conjures swampy, manic energy on "Goin' to Beat the Devil (To See My Angel Tonight)," and the title cut is a subtle masterpiece, a believable ballad with well-drawn characters and soul to burn. Azar is the kind of new artist country music needs right now.—RW