Curtis Wright is a songwriter, and has composed some notable country hits for other artists, like Shenandoah (“Next To You, Next To Me”) and Ronnie Milsap (“A Woman In Love”). Wright has been writing songs, doing session work and playing in backing road bands for country artists for decades.
Wright released a solo collection (also entitled “Curtis Wright” on Liberty Records in 1992, but his work as a collaborator has prevailed since then. His new work (“Curtis Wright”) on Voxhall Records shows that he can interpret others’ work as well as write his own.
Given his song-writing chops, it’s a departure for Wright to have recorded so many songs written by others. He leans heavily on Shawn Camp, a fellow Nashville composer, who has now found considerable success as lead singer for Jerry Douglas’ Earls of Leicester. Camp’s “Tunnel, Tunnel” benefits from strong support from Rob Ickes’ Dobro work, but admirably displays Wright’s straight-ahead country vocals. “Til I’m Dead And Gone”, another Camp tune mostly associated with Randy Travis similarly shines with Wright’s easy, but rich vocals.
If liner notes are to be believed, Curtis Wright’s second solo effort had a long gestation period, but it was worth the wait, and the manifest commitment to the material. Wright wrote or co-wrote three of the songs on “Curtis Wright” (“Waitin’ On My heart To Break” (co-written with Brandon Rickman of The Lonesome River Band), “Mama Prayed For Me”, Going Through Carolina” (co-written with Jerry Salley). Each is a solid testament to country music’s heritage and roots. These elements are not always shown in high relief on mainstream country albums, but they are deeply woven through the fabric of “Curtis Wright”.
The familiar touchstones of country music receive their just due on “Curtis Wright”: trains (“Tunnel, Tunnel”), the Southern living (“Going Through Carolina”) and spirituality (Ronnie Bowman’s “I Will Someday” and “Mama Prayed For Me”), but these common themes are heartfelt and richly delivered. Then again, whiskey often has a hand in loss and redemption and “Curtis Wright” takes on the ills of panther’s breath (“Rainy Day Whiskey” and “Listening to Whiskey and Talking To Walls”) with the wisdom of a life well-lived.
Wright’s collaborators enrich this collection. Ickes, who layers any project with a sweet, but biting Dobro line, is a strong presence. Rhonda Vincent duets with Wright on “Never Mind” and their voices mesh particularly well. Jimmy Metts provided a strong production hand and the fidelity and arrangements admirably match Wright’s writing and vocal talents. “Curtis Wright” may have been a long time coming, but it’s a wonderful collection of country music.