They say that the music business can be brutal for artists and James Otto is living proof that sometimes that brutality can be for the better. After releasing “Days Of Our Lives” for Mercury Nashville in 2004, Otto was let go after the label failed to create much of any sort of labels for the artist. Around his unceremonious departure from Mercury, the Muzik Mafia movement was starting to make its mark with Big & Rich leading the way. A member of the Muzik Mafia collective, Otto worked on his craft and was rewarded with another shot at his dream in late 2006. Signed to Big & Rich’s record label Warner Brothers, through their vanity label Raybaw Records, James Otto quickly went into the studio with John Rich and started what would become “Sunset Man.” With a sound that isn’t much different than the Mercury Records debut, “Sunset Man” nonetheless shows off more of who James Otto is as an artist.
The Big & Rich influence is present right off the bat with the album opener and second single “Ain’t Gonna Stop.” Featured in the 2007 version of EA Sports’ NASCAR video game series, the song suits Otto well. It isn’t the most lyrically inventive and James does name-check himself in it but as an album opener and concert starter, this song, co-written by James, John Rich, Big Kenny and Motley Crue’s Nikki Sixx, sets a mood. The first single from the record, “Just Got Started Loving You” is a solid Top 5 hit that is a piece of sultry, romantic, baby-making music. It’s also a song that would make for a great wedding track.
While John Rich is the primary producer of eight of the eleven tracks on the record, Otto’s brother-in-law and Rascal Flatts bassist Jay DeMarcus (the most talented member of the trio), produced the three other tracks. “For You” is one of the best tracks on the record. With subtle production touches backing him up, Otto sings a heartbreaking lyric about a guy who can’t move on. “You Don’t Act Like My Woman” is the second of the three songs DeMarcus contributed to the record and it again finds a man dealing with a crumbling relationship. The final track produced by DeMarcus is the album closer “The Man That I Am.” The melody is a moody hue of smoky blues that Otto simply excels at.
As for the other tracks on the record, the title track, “Sunset Man,” stands out as does the humorous uptempo romp “Drink & Dial.” The The title track, written with Shannon Lawson and John Rich, features melody that recalls the smart folk/country of Hal Ketchum. “Drink & Dial” has the goofy touchstone of Big & Rich (Rich and Vicky McGehee co wrote it with Otto) and it works even better with James’ strong voice slinging the lyrics.
From the first time I heard James Otto sing four years ago, I thought he had the potential to be a star. “Sunset Man” is a record that affirms that feeling and announces his arrival to the mainstream country music world.