Pete Schlegel,
Strong Stuff
(independent, 2003)

Pete Schlegel is a man who knows what he's doing. Playing honky-tonk pop country with solid hooks and no complications, he puts a new edge on the old saws of true love, lost love and hard drink.

Strong Stuff isn't going to rewrite the country songbook. The themes are the usual and the lyrics are blunt statements, organized with a simplicity that should be laughable. But any urge to giggle is taken over by the urge to dance and shout along as soon as the guitar kicks in. Schlegel's work may not be the most original, but it's easily one of the catchiest records you'll hear for a good stretch of time. Halfway through any song, even avowed country haters are likely to find themselves hollering along with the chorus.

Schlegel's at his best when he's sincere, whether exuberant with "A Girl Like You" or grappling with trouble in "Leaving Ain't As Easy As It Sounds." His more gimmicky pieces, like the acronym loaded "Short for Gone" or the one joke "Liquor to Like Her," are sometimes heavy handed enough to outweigh the lightness of his hooks. His joke songs will doubtless be big radio play hits, but they lack the sticking power of the promise in "Something Strong." The more heartfelt songs also come with hottest licks and strongest tunes. "Gotta Get to Her Before My Reputation" blasts along with more than a touch of real rock, setting the stage for the steady blast of "Swinging Doors."

Strong Stuff has a decent share of blues and honky tonk alongside the rock 'n' roll. Blues or bluegrass, every song has a kick, a swinging attitude that keeps the whole album moving through even the slowest spots. Mixed with Schlegel's strong country voice and some powerful guitar work, Strong Stuff could knock even an old honky-tonker back a step or two.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 10 September 2005

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