A True Original

After Alison Krauss said she built her 1999 album, Forget About It, around the Robert Lee Castleman song of the same name, people began to wonder about the songwriter, a relative unknown in Nashville circles. Crazy As Me is a stellar introduction.

Castleman is big, both physically and in his musical vision. It's a fact he illustrates with complex, unexpected songs that sound unlike anything else in country today. It takes but one listen to the singer's unflinching, direct vocals on "Crazy As Me" (RealAudio excerpt) to realize you're listening to a true original.

Castleman's tortured vocals evoke comparisons to a sweeter Tom Waits, a raw-boned, burly Lyle Lovett or a really wigged-out Gordon Lightfoot. A cadre of top-flight Nashville cats — including Viktor Krauss, Gary Smith, Kenny Malone, Jerry Douglas, Tom Roady and Pat Bergeson (who co-produced the album with Castleman) — enhance the singer's prodigious vocal talents.

Krauss lends her sweet voice to background vocals on the superb "Kinda Like a Rainbow" (RealAudio excerpt), her voice melding with Castleman's like leather and lace. The track "Like Red on a Rose" (RealAudio excerpt), which, along with several other songs here, he co-wrote with his wife, Melanie, is poetry set to lap steel and a B3 organ.

Castleman's sinewy yet sensuous guitar work is surprisingly good, until you remember that he's recorded with and written for legendary picker Chet Atkins.