New traditionalist country singer Elbert West had a strong taste of success in the early '90s when he penned Tracy Lawrence's first two big hits, "Sticks and Stones" and "Can't Break It to My Heart." But subsequent years of spending all his royalties and trying to eke out a living as a songwriter in Nashville -- a town that, throughout the '90s, increasingly turned its back on the classic brand of country he writes -- led to him becoming a recording artist himself. West released his debut album, Livin' the Life, in 2001. The effort serves up the kind of country once put to vinyl by folks like Merle Haggard and George Jones (both of whom provide good reference points for West's baritone). Many of the themes penned by West, who was raised in the coal fields of West Virginia, revolve around defiance, and there's a real rock & roll spirit at work in his performances. The first single from Livin' the Life, "Diddley," exemplifies that spirit with its rollicking energy and in-your-face lyrics. ~ Erik Hage, Rovi