John Rich | Underneath The Same Moon (BNA/Legacy)

To wit, certain of its tracks (the odd cover of Bryan Adams’ “When You Love Someone,” for instance) have only an insipid professionalism to recommend them. Others, like “Steel Bridges” and “Love Won’t Listen,” all but overwhelm Rich’s tenor in places with their orchestration.

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By and large, the members of the so-called Muzik Mafia play commercial country for listeners marginally too hip for commercial country. In that regard, they scarcely warrant the ink spilled over them in the past few years—yet they also may not warrant instant dismissal, as John Rich’s Underneath the Same Moon suggests.

With “Big” Kenny Alphin, of course, Rich forms the duo Big & Rich, the godfathers of the sonic Cosa Nostra in question, and the previously unreleased 11-track BNA/Legacy CD under examination dates from 1999. Although dyed-in-the-wool fans of the duo should thus celebrate the disc’s issuance, other listeners may formulate a more measured response.

To wit, certain of its tracks (the odd cover of Bryan Adams’ “When You Love Someone,” for instance) have only an insipid professionalism to recommend them. Others, like “Steel Bridges” and “Love Won’t Listen,” all but overwhelm Rich’s tenor in places with their orchestration. Even worse, still others sound fey beyond the pale, such as the opening “I Pray for You,” with its candle-and-angels shtick, or the looking–for–Ms. Right hokum of “Someday.” (The former track, incidentally, also appears on Big & Rich’s Comin’ to Your City, their 2005 sophomore offering. Caveat lector.)

Still, Underneath the Same Moon features various felicities. The title track boasts some lovely work on the cello, keyboards, and steel guitar, for example, and a bagpipe—scarcely an instrument common to Commercial Country 101—graces “Old Blue Mountain.” Otherwise, “She Brings the Lightnin’ Down” weds country and funk in an entertaining way, and as country-rock, “Something to Believe In” works well enough. Finally, with the assistance of the glorious Fairfield Four, Rich closes the disc with the ecstatic “New Jerusalem”—easily the biggest surprise on Underneath the Same Moon as well as its choicest cut.

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