Rich O’Toole: Kiss of a Liar

Rich O’Toole
Kiss of a Liar
Average Joe’s Entertainment
Rating: ★★★½☆

For the past several years Rich O’Toole has been a fixture at the top tier of the charts in his native Texas, where he’s opened shows for Willie Nelson, Dierks Bentley, Gary Allan and others. Anybody listening to country or rock in Texas lately knows who Rich O’Toole is. Now he’s signed to Nashville’s Average Joe’s label and has Nashville management, co-writers and engineers, obviously making his move to play in a bigger sandbox. With Kiss of a Liar, his third full-length album, O’Toole shows that he’s serious about claiming a spot at the top.

The album opens with “Red Hot Kiss,” a satisfying uptempo club number of desire that has the makings of a modern country radio staple, though the mix is a bit mushy and distracting. He continues with loud guitars on another rocker, “Ay Dios Mio,” featuring fellow Texan Josh Abbott, who worked with Nashville guitarist Jedd Hughes and former Ricochet member Heath Wright. O’Toole has been riding high on the Texas charts with the album’s first single, the acoustic “The Cricket Song,” and those looking for something closer to real country music will enjoy the Adam Hood-penned “I Wanna Be With You.” When O’Toole opens the song with “Put down the cigarettes/Don’t take those sleeping pills/Stay up and talk to me ‘cause/I wanna be with you,” and steel guitar carries the song into the chorus, one hopes that O’Toole will go more in this direction in the future. A little more pure country influence in the production and instrumentation would be nice, as he clearly owes more to Springsteen or the Heartbreakers (especially with the album’s dominant keyboard sounds) on this album than he does to Hank.

A lot of industry vets must believe that O’Toole has promise, as he’s managed to attract co-writers like Kent Agee (Rodney Atkins), Jimbeau Hinson (Steve Earle) and Trent Summar (Billy Currington), and friends like Pat Green, who stops by to lend his vocals to O’Toole’s version of Wilco’s “Casino Queen.” And to his credit, O’Toole enunciates better than any number of singers, taking a cue from another Texas vocalist, Don Henley, and not letting vocal peccadilloes and or an exaggerated delivery distract from making sure the lyric and melody are always front and center.

In the end, though, Kiss of a Liar doesn’t hit it out of the park, and some may not find much remarkable about O’Toole. But a lot of people once said the same thing about a couple guys named Chesney and McGraw, two singers who wanted it and worked relentlessly to improve themselves and to get it. That’s what O’Toole, a road warrior who performs constantly and writes with the best, is doing. Given his continuing progress, growing fan base and relentless work ethic, Average Joe’s could have a pretty good long-term investment on their hands. Here’s to the next record and to a guy who could be one of the major stadium draws of tomorrow.