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Live At Billy Bob's Texas: Mark Wills

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Album Review

One of several castaways from the moribund "hat act" scene of mid-'90s Nashville to find himself on this small country indie label, Mark Wills starts his post majors career with a no-frills live album that perhaps unintentionally shows exactly what went wrong with mainstream country music at the end of the millennium. There's more audible enthusiasm in Wills' vocals in the first minute of the wry opener "And the Crowd Goes Wild" than there was on the entire album of the same name that was Wills' Mercury swan song. Similarly, the arrangements are fundamentally the same as they were on Wills' earlier albums, with lots of rocking rhythm guitar lines underneath the twangy country leads, but unlike the pristine separation of the ultra-clean studio records, there are some rough edges. (The drummer's not playing to a click track, either, which helps a ton right there.) Wills is an affable Everyman of a singer with a little Alan Jackson in his vocal style, and his songs rarely rise above "catchy and hummable," so he was never going to be a country superstar on the Garth Brooks level, but this thoroughly enjoyable live record shows that he's a much more entertaining act than his previous albums had revealed. That's not his fault; it's the fault of the label folks who tend to stifle their artists into cookie-cutter conformity.


Born: 08 August 1973 in Cleveland, TN

Genre: Country

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Although he didn't quite achieve the fame or sales of new country contemporaries as Tim McGraw or Clay Walker, Mark Wills earned a respectable following and strong reviews following the release of his eponymous 1996 debut album. As a teenager in the small town of Blue Ridge, GA, Wills was fond of pop-metal bands like Poison and Bon Jovi, and throughout his teens he played in metal garage bands. But as he became an adult, his tastes shifted toward country-pop and new traditionalist country. Considering...
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