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Mike Farley 

Blue(RTT)

"Although it has yet to make a dent outside its native Ohio, the Michael Stanley Band is competent, though it's hampered by the lack of a unique sound," began the Michael Stanley entry in the world's first comprehensive guide to rock albums, 1979's Rolling Stone Record Guide. A generation later, it would seem the kindest way to summarize the history of Mike Farley and his thoroughly mainstream pop-rock outfit. His maddeningly upbeat music has echoed everything from early Hootie and the Blowfish to late Goo Goo Dolls -- a concoction that seems as out of step with the times as the backwards baseball cap the singer-songwriter has sported to mask the effects of aging.

And yet Farley's work ethic has lately been paying off in ways that Stanley's never seemed to. Not only has he finally been letting his dome shine onstage, but his first album in two years embraces a harder, more mature sound that picks up on the burgeoning market for moody grooves, propelled by the likes of Dave Matthews and John Mayer. Similarly, the disc's production is as exacting as Farley's performance schedule, setting his warm, mid-range vocals against carefully balanced arrangements.

By the third or fourth cut, however, every one of these tasteful devices has become as predictable and annoying as the lyric's hackneyed phrases ("Teach me how to love," "I'll catch you if you're falling," "We never can give up this fight" etc.). Sometimes, history repeats itself no matter how hard you study.

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