Plenty of country singers have made a career by adhering to that old truism: "The key is sincerity -- if you can fake that, you've got it made." Not Big Al Downing
, though. The proto-rocker, now comfortable in country duds, performs throughout One of a Kind
with a disarming enthusiasm that simply cannot be faked. Whether clearing the dancefloor on "Boogie-Woogie Roll," slyly offering to nuzzle the neck of his waitress in "Joe's Truck Stop," quashing a few memories in "A Cigarette, a Bottle and a Jukebox," or sermonizing on racial intolerance in the touchingly old-fashioned "I'm Too Green to Be Blue," Downing
emanates an irresistible vibe. There's nothing affected in his singing; his range is limited, his phrasing a little graceless, and everything he does feels as rough-edged and familiar as a favorite old shirt -- in other words, it's just what the world needs after skidding around for too long on the slick surface of contemporary music. Incidentally, Downing
does nod toward other styles throughout this set; there's a Jimmy Buffett
-like Caribbean sway on "Goodbye My Love," some hip-grinding blues on "Rock Me Baby," and on ballads like "What a Man Will Do" he shows just how close country and Percy Sledge
-style retro-soul actually are. In the end, though, One of a Kind
isn't about genre; it's about how a larger than life and even lovable personality can bring a smile to a listener's face, even now.