Phil Vassar, "Traveling Circus"

Album Review

On his fifth studio set, "Traveling Circus," Lynchburg, Va., native Phil Vassar set out to make an album without following the conventions of Nashville's paint-by-numbers record-making-he hired his road band to back him and produced the album himself. Although it steps off the Nashville assembly line, "Traveling Circus" finds Vassar (who either wrote or co-wrote every song) less of a maverick than he might have hoped, as the result isn't radically different lyrically or sonically from previous efforts. But that's not to say he failed; quite the opposite. The standout tracks include lead single "Bobbi With an I," a refreshing comedic jaunt about a cross-dressing good ole boy, and "A Year From Now," a haunting, piano-drenched ballad about hidden optimism in the face of teeth-grinding heartbreak. Although Vassar's pleasing, supple voice recalls classic '70s pop singers, this album isn't about distinctive singing-it's about delivering superbly crafted country songs. And when that's the goal, Vassar always shows up wearing his game face.-Wade Jessen