Diamond Rio’s eponymous debut album was released 20 years ago this month. The disc catapulted the band to country stardom when their first single, the infectious “Meet In The Middle” became the first chart-topping debut by a group in the history of Country Singles chart. Four more singles hit the top 10 and the album went on to sell more than a million copies. It also introduced the melodic energetic sound of Diamond Rio, and showcased the band’s tight musicianship on record.
“Meet In The Middle” features Tim DuBois’ bouncy production in a lyric that simply celebrates compromise, and uses the sweet story of a boy and girl meeting halfway between their homes as the analogy of meeting halfway once again as a means to end their future squabbles. Marty Roe’s solid vocal hits as hard as the snappy drums and Gene Johnson’s mandolin make for a great track, which sailed to #1 for 2 weeks.
Also making waves at radio was the bluesy “Mirror Mirror”, with its clever wicked queen hook it became the band’s second top 5. Also hitting the top 5 is the blistering “Norma Jean Riley”, with its dry humor and talking instruments, it recalls the best of Alan Jackson’s similar witty tunes. Sandwiched in between that pair at radio is the elegant “Mama Don’t Forget to Pray For Me”, which recounts a traveling musician calling home to talk to his folks. It’s memorable melody and heartstring subject matter pushed it to #9 on the charts.
The final single – and my favorite track – is the smart and direct second person narrative “Nowhere Bound”. This mid-tempo gem sounds like it would be at home in Mary Chapin Carpenter’s songbook, right down to its wry lyrics:
Where to now, do you know?
One thing’s for certain, gonna reap just what you sow
And all you planted was heartache and pain
Don’t look now, but it looks like rain
“Nowhere Bound” was written by co-producer Monty Powell and Jule Edders, and went to #7 on the singles chart in 1992.
Also notable are the tale of two top-notch musicians dueling for the title of “best around” in the fast-paced “Ballad of Billy and Conley (The Proof’s in the Pickin’)”, which allows the boys to show off their dexterity with their respective instruments, much like the closing instrumental track “Poultry Promenade”. The driving “Pick Me Up” tells of a man who feels lower than bottom – “pick me up so I can fall again” – and is set to another infectious melody.
Produced by Tim DuBois and Monty Powell, Diamond Rio’s debut album served to not only kickstart the band’s hit-making career, it also served as the template that would come to characterize the band’s sound, with their own crack musicianship in the studio, tight harmonies, and breezy melodies. Diamond Rio is a great showcase of ’90s country at its best.
Buy it from amazon.