Focus

Winston Slade

Southern Tracks Records, 1997

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/29/1998

It was inevitable -- the country music industry is beginning to groom successors to the genre's throne, presently held by Garth Brooks.

A whole new generation of artists who have been weaned on the music that Brooks has produced for almost a decade are now making their voices heard -- in the hopes of eventually unseating their mentor.

Well, you can add teenager Winston Slade's name to that list -- his debut album Focus shows that he's learned his lessons well without becoming a carbon copy of Brooks... but he's not quite there yet.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Admittedly, I'm not one of the biggest country music fans in the world -- the total number of country albums in the Pierce Archives (one month to the Grammies) is definitely not above 100. But when Slade focuses (no pun intended) on choosing good songs and giving each one his best effort, the album takes off.

There are a few minor mistakes along the way. "The English Language" features a chorus that is just annoying, and the song never seems to get off the ground. And while I won't knock anyone for covering rockabilly legend Gene Vincent, this version of "Be-Bop-A-Lula" is -- perish the thought! -- a little too rock-oriented for me. Slade's vocal delivery on this one, at least until the final chorus -- is too laid-back.

But for the few weak moments on Focus, the strengths quickly wipe them from memory. "When I'm Gone" is a lovely ballad that will fail to move only the hardest heart, while the title track is a positive number that one might not expect to hear in country music; I could easily see this one fitting in on the radio. Even a throwaway subject like that of "Kissing Coach" wins the listener over on the strength of the performances and vocals.

And it's not that Focus is a feel-good country album -- not with songs like "Every Time You Go Outside I Hope It Rains," a surprisingly good song. But for the most part, the general vibe on this one isn't a negative one -- and, in a sense, this is a refreshing change of pace.

The one disappointment I can find is that Slade is constantly relying on outside material; not one of these songs features a writing credit for Slade. I would like to see what kind of writing talents Slade has -- he's almost got the performance thing down pat.

Focus is a powerfully strong debut album that brings into the spotlight quite possibly the next household country name. With another coat or two of paint -- and a lot of lucky breaks -- Slade will quickly get his chance, and I'll be looking forward to seeing this happen.

Rating: B+

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Southern Tracks Records, and is used for informational purposes only.