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33 Miles
by 33 Miles

Reviewed by Michael Ehret

"What's not to like [about 33Miles]? ...but with the talent these guys have, why do they need to sound like someone else?"

You love Rascal Flatts? Brian Littrell? 4Him? Then chances are good you’re going to love new INO Records group 33 Miles.

And what’s not to like? Vocalist Jason Barton has pipes of gold and the power to put behind them to push those country-pop choruses to the stratosphere. Guitarist Chris Lockwood certainly knows his way around a guitar and acquits himself well in his solo opportunities. Keyboardist Collin Stoddard’s fingers supply just the right touch whether providing a delicate bed of notes for Barton to rest on or driving a tune over the top with Billy Preston touches.

And all three of them are cute. And they harmonize real well. And they are endearing in their comments about their mission: “We just want to love on God’s people…and remind the church and ourselves of who we are in Christ,” Lockwood said. Aw, shucks!

So why do I keep thinking throughout this entire debut, “I’ve heard this before”? Because I have. Because I have heard Rascal Flatts. Because I have heard 4Him. Because I have heard Avalon, Greg Long, David Meece, Counting Crows, True Vibe (Barton used to be in that group), and on and on. And this is a real problem, or at least it is for me.

Here’s the thing: I’m not hearing echoes of these other groups in 33 Miles songs. I’m actually hearing the other groups. In the song “Stand Amazed” for instance, Barton sounds just like 4Him’s Mark Harris on the first verse. On their first single, “What Could Be Better,” he channels Gary LeVox from Rascal Flatts. Add a couple female singers into “There Is A God” and you’ve got Avalon.

And with the talent these three guys have, why do they need to sound like anyone else? Barton’s vocals are stunning. Why not turn him loose to be who he is rather than having him (and the rest of the group) mimic these other successful powerhouses? Why not? Because it will sell really well this way.

I want to like this. I really do. And I do find the songs sticking in my mind, particularly the spectacular “There Is A God.” And I do have a soft spot in my own tastes for this particular brand of power pop country.

But as someone who is involved in the creative arts myself, I also value originality. And when the first person you think of when a song starts is not the artist singing it, then you’ve fallen down in the originality arena.

Michael Ehret is a music maven who has written about music, secular and Christian, as a reporter for The Indianapolis Star newspaper, several Internet sites, and even CCM magazine. He is also the editor of the newsletter Afictionado, the e-zine of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), and is testing the waters with his first novel, Beyond December, while working on his second, Skipping July.