Underneath the Same Moon

by: John Rich

Anybody going into John Rich's Underneath the Same Moon and expecting the gonzo country-rap-rock of Big & Rich will be sorely disappointed. Rich recorded the album in 1999, five years before the first Big & Rich record, but it remained unreleased until March 2006, as the duo entered their third year of omnipresence. There's a reason why it was shelved in 1999: it's not that great. Not that it's terrible, but Underneath the Same Moon was made when John Rich was still trying to play by the Nashville rule book, so it's predictable, polished, and safe. Ballads dominate the album, as if each cut were designed to be a mainstay on pop-leaning country stations. The sound may be there, but the songs are by and large not: Rich sounds so consumed with fitting in within the confines of contemporary country that he fails to give himself any distinguishing characteristics. A couple of the ballads are well constructed -- most notably "I Pray for You," which Big & Rich revived for their 2005 sophomore effort, Comin' to Your City, and "When You Love Someone," which originally appeared on the soundtrack to Sandra Bullock's 1998 movie Hope Floats -- but they all blend together, particularly because there are so many of them. Rich breaks out of this sound only three times on the record: he tries to get a bit of swagger going on the promising but stilted "She Brings the Lightnin' Down," "Something to Believe" strikes out on its attempt to be an anthemic country arena-rocker, but the tongue-in-cheek a cappella gospel of "New Jerusalem" clicks. By far, it's the most distinctive song here, so it's little wonder that this is the direction John Rich chose to follow with Big Kenny Alphin (who co-wrote five tunes here) when they teamed up a few years later: it's the only song that breaks the mould, and the only one that suggests the musician that John Rich was to become. For those fans who love Big & Rich, Underneath the Same Moon may be worth a listen, just so they can get a sense of Rich's roots, but it only confirms that Horse of a Different Color wasn't merely a commercial breakthrough, but an artistic one too. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Please enable Javascript to view this page competely.