There’s been many a discussion this past month about what makes an artist most effective: is it vocal nuance or personal connection? Is it songs with explicit absolute truth or implicit absolute emotion? They’re interesting topics to explore, but somewhere in between the analyses, we’ve lost sight of –and perhaps even appreciation of– the artists who have the potential to make our analyses futile. Because some artists actually have it all.
Let’s be real: “Groovy Little Summer Song” isn’t near James Otto’s most memorable, well-written material. It’s not as infectious as his mega-hit, “Just Got Started Lovin’ You,” nor as impassioned as the lesser-known “For You,” and his soulful phrasing seems to eat up some of the words. But “Groovy Little Summer Song” is an incredibly refreshing re-introduction to an artist who can deliver both rich, distinctive vocals and pure, raw sentiment. Otto may be simply asking a DJ to crank up a cool summer tune, but he still manages to color his performance with shades of believable soul, technical substance (the falsetto is a treat) and authentic summer bliss.
It helps that country radio rarely hears groovy little summer songs, making this one a breath of fresh air against its island-flavored and often one-dimensional peers. Otto’s summer is a little slower-burning and smoother than that of Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band, Jack Ingram or…Rascal Flatts. It’s a little more contemplative and a little more intoxicating. Country radio’s tried-and-true themes could stand to gain a splash of emotive soul.
As we sift through the crop of mainstream country acts this year, let’s remember to keep an eye on Otto. Like Sunset Man, his upcoming album has the potential to make him a contemporary example of an artist whose strengths are multi-faceted. And we need more of the kind.
Written by Al Anderson, Carson Chamberlain, and James Otto
Listen: Groovy Little Summer Song