Country artist Dave Insley has another winner in Just the Way That I Am, his fourth solo album and his first since 2008’s West Texas Wine. The Austin, Texas-based singer’s rich baritone, which remains front and center throughout, exudes personality and is nearly as distinctive in its way as the vocals of Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. The backup, which features such notables as guitarist Redd Volkaert and guest vocalists like Dale Watson and Kelly Willis, is first-rate. And the songs—including nine by Insley and another two that he cowrote—are uniformly excellent.
The program incorporates a few well-told tales of lives gone wrong, most notably “Arizona Territory 1904,” which echoes Springsteen’s “Highway Patrolman” while reimagining Marty Robbins’s “Big Iron” from the perspective of a killer who is tracked down and shot by his lawman brother. But the singer devotes much of this CD to sentimental, personal lyrics about love and family—the sort of stuff that’s particularly hard to pull off without sounding syrupy or clichéd. Insley succeeds, especially on “We’re All Here Together Because of You,” a tribute to his wife, and “Everything Must Go,” a collaboration with singer Rosie Flores that could serve as a sort of country companion to George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.”
God knows, Austin has its share of fine musicians. Even in that crowd, though, Insley ranks as a standout performer.