Robert Lee Castleman

Crazy as Me (Rounder)

The first time you hear this exceptional CD, the talons of Castleman's songs will gain quick, whispery purchase on your emotional skin, and over time, the lyrics will sink in as deeply as Castleman's singularly warm and supple baritone. His voice is haunting, his narratives open-ended, and his quest purposeful. Although he's the restless kind -- he remains an over-the-road trucker, even though his songs have been recorded by the likes of Alison Krauss (his sister-in-law), Suzy Bogguss, and Chet Atkins -- his work is remarkably grounded and peaceful, no matter how blue.

Castleman's songs are surprisingly patient, forgiving, and candid forays into his psyche. This is a man who can't help singing the blues; because he's so crazy, all he can be is a loner. No one can join him, he sings in the title track, the defiant "My Life," and the tongue-in-chic, gospel-organ "Movin' Down (in the World)." Our wounded hero also connects on the gorgeous, pop-gospel "Kinda Like a Rainbow" (Alison Krauss's harmonies are those of a bruised angel) and the tender "Like Red on a Rose." The texture of the tunes is delicate, the production unusually rich and careful, though undoctored. What gives Castleman's brilliant songs extra immediacy and vividness is expert musicianship, paced by the likes of veteran drummer Kenny Malone and Castleman's brother-in-arms (and brother-in-law), guitarist Pat Bergeson. Castleman tunes are as high lonesome as anything by Jimmie Dale Gilmore or Lyle Lovett. You may think you're about to hear a folk album, but Crazy as Me is far, far more -- and nothing like conventional Nashville product.