In the wake of the success of I Think About You, Epic Nashville released The Best of Colin Raye: Direct Hits in the spring of 1997. Lead single “What The Heart Wants,” a mid-tempo ballad, peaked at #2 while the Phil Vassar co-write “Little Red Rodeo” was a top 5 hit. Both are excellent songs, and the latter is still one of his biggest recurrent hits today.
Kim Tribble and Tammy Hyler’s “I Can Still Feel You” returned Raye to the top of the charts for the first time in three years and served as the lead single for The Walls Came Down, his fifth studio release for Epic. The single was a change in tone for Raye, with a decidedly slicker production marked by pronounced percussion and guitar work. I like it, but it’s far from a favorite.
Much better is the second single, Tim Johnson and Rory Lee Feek’s “Someone I Used To Know.” It’s an excellent lyric and the first major cut of Feek’s songwriting career (he bought his barn the year after this hit peaked – he and Joey now film their TV show there). Back in his signature ballad mode, Raye shines with this tale of a man’s anguish towards his malevolent ex:
Like a friend, like a fool
Like some guy you knew in school
Didn’t we love, didn’t we share
Or don’t you even care
I know we said we were through
But I never knew how quickly I would go
From someone you loved
To someone you used to know
Another favorite of mine is the sunny third single “Anyone Else,” written by Radney Foster. The tale of unconditional love is a masterful slice of pop country and the rare adult love song that celebrates appreciation and contentment (two emotions hard to properly convey). I admire how no matter what she’s committed to making the relationship work, no matter how difficult:
When anyone else would’ve been long gone
Packed it up and headed back home
And not a soul would blame you after what I put you through
Yeah anyone else would’ve gone insane
Called the game on a count of rain
Anyone else, anyone else
Anyone but you
Fourth and final single “Start Over Georgia” hit like a dud and only peaked at #39. The song was bit of wishful thinking and wasn’t slick enough to compete with the changing tides of country radio at the end of the decade. I do love the fiddles in the opening, though, and Raye brings it vocally.
The rest of the album plays like a typical Collin Raye record, mixing up-tempos and ballads quite nicely. “I Wish I Could” is strong vocally, but isn’t the most original lyrically and “April Fool” is an excellent ballad with pleasing steel guitar throughout. “Make Sure You Got It All” has the requisite soaring chorus (and a very predictable story), and is very poppy despite the large amounts of steel. The same goes for “Survivors,” sinister piano and string ballad “Dark Secrets,” and the very slow “All The Roads.” The uptempo numbers are better, with Hugh Prestwood’s “Corner of my Heart” playing like a lesser “Anyone Else” and the title track being the only real choice for another single (that could get airplay at the time) even though it’s far from Raye at his best.
All of that was overshadowed, though, but the album’s closing track “The Eleventh Commandment,” a frank look at abuse – a father who is having sex with his daughter, and the son with bruises covering his face and body. The track is stomach churning and very off-putting, which is a testament to Karen Taylor-Good and Lisa Aschmann’s way with a lyric. They get you to feel even when you don’t want to:
She hears his heavy breathing in the dark
His footsteps coming closer down the hall
She’s so ashamed; she’s daddy’s secret love
She wants to cry, she wants to die, but he can’t get enough
The bruises on his face will go away
Mom keeps him home from school till they fade
She’s sorry he was born and tells him so
He takes it in, he hangs his chin, he ducks another blow
Did God overlook it?
What ought have been written?
The eleventh commandment
Honor thy children
Like previous hits “Little Rock” and “I Think About You” Raye masterfully takes on a very tough social issue, although this is the most uncomfortable song in this vain yet (from him or Martina McBride). There hasn’t been as haunting a song in a long, long time.
In the end, “The Eleventh Commandment,” which was never a single but did have a music video, overshadowed the rest of The Walls Came Down and rightfully so. It’s that powerful. But as a body of work, the record feels a lot like Raye on cruise control, relaying on his formula a little too much and not taking enough risks. The three hits are great, but they’re the best songs on this album, which contains a little too much filler from a guy who just came off the most consistent work of his career with I Think About You. He may’ve set the bar just a little too high.