Picks and Pans Review: Country

updated 11/22/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/22/2004 AT 01:00 AM EST

Phil Vassar

Shaken Not Stirred

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Phil Vassar has carved himself a substantial niche in Nashville, and he hasn't used a cookie cutter to do it. Vassar is an effectively romantic country singer. One reason is his ability to approach love themes in a lot of different ways without ever sounding like he's pandering to dispirited modern notions of chivalry. On this follow-up to 2002's American Child, the Lynchburg, Va., native goes from the unapologetically affectionate "Nobody Knows Me Like You" and his recent No. 1 hit "In a Real Love" to the playfully sexy "I'll Take That as a Yes (The Hot Tub Song)." Vassar composed 10 of the album's 12 tunes, with help from his wife, Julie, and his friend Craig Wiseman. Most of the tracks allow him to flaunt his extraordinary piano playing. This is most obvious on "Black and Whites," a tribute to his instrument that has a bluesy, Billy Joel feel. But throughout, Vassar decorates his vocals with his keyboard work in a way that evokes the best singer-pianists, from Nat "King" Cole and Hoagy Carmichael to Ronnie Milsap and Diana Krall.

DOWNLOAD THIS: "I'll Take That as a Yes (The Hot Tub Song)"

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