SAWYER BROWN: GREATEST HITS; Mark Miller (vocals); "The Race Is On," "Leona," "Getting Used to Blue;" Capitol C2-94259 , $15.99.
Some country singers will always work, and work for big bucks. They have a secret. They are more than mere people; they embody something larger than themselves: a state of mind, perhaps, a tradition, a way of life.George Strait is the state of Texas, for instance, with all its square-shouldered, square-jawed Southern style. Loretta Lynn shows the charm, wit and gumption of hard scrabble America, and Merle Haggard - with his booze and demons - just may be the embodiment of country music itself.
I bring all this up as evidence to use against Sawyer Brown and the group's new "Greatest Hits" release. At heart, this group - led by lead singer Mark Miller - is little more than the embodiment of themselves.
Sawyer Brown won a Star Search competition several years back. And - after looking at the market - decided to take a chance on country music. Miller, especially, seems more obsessed with his career than he's ever been with the music. In concert, his jokes about Randy Travis show he has no interest at all in country traditions.
But then fate has both blessed and cursed Mark Miller. Miller was given a voice that's as magnificent as the voice of Lou Rawls, but - in some kind of cruel hoax - he was given no soul to go along with it.
As difficult as this is to believe, there are actually soda crackers on the shelves of supermarkets that have more substance than Mark Miller. He is to country music what snake oil salesmen are to medicine: a pain, a charlatan.
On the hits here such as "Getting Used to Blue," "Step that Step," "Leona" - even on the growly knock-off of the George Jones classic "The Race Is On" - Miller seems more interested in promoting himself, not the music or the genre.
If Charley Pride were to make a comeback, Miller's the type who'd paint himself black as a good "career move."
Country music has never had sophistication or subtlety or much credibility. What it has had is bare-bones honesty.
Sawyer Brown undercuts that honesty and - by doing so - sabotages the credibility of everyone in the business.