Can’t Back Down, Collin Raye’s seventh studio album, came just eight months after Tracks and did nothing to reverse his already declining fortunes. He took on co-producer James Stroud for the project, but that didn’t help matters, and he exited Epic shortly thereafter.
“Ain’t Nobody Gonna Take That From Me” peaked at #43 and it’s an excellent song, evidenced by Joe Nichols cover on 2007’s Real Things. Raye’s version, however, was a bit too poppy, but he gives a pleasant vocal and has some nice fiddle riffs throughout. The breathy religious-tinged ballad “What I Need” failed to chart.
The main problem with the album is the generic nature of the proceedings – Raye and Stroud fail to amass a collection of songs that rise above average, with the song selection failing to be anything terribly memorable let alone hit worthy. Raye spends the project trying to fit in with the early 2000s Nashville crowd, thus spending too much time pandering and not enough time finding great songs.
That being said this isn’t a terrible album, but it isn’t up to Raye’s usual standards. “Gypsy Honeymoon” does boast a nice up-beat production, but Raye’s raspy vocal is a bit off-putting. He charges up the production again on “Young As We’re Ever Gonna Be” (which he co-wrote), to much better results, pulling off what sounds like a long-lost Mary Chapin Carpenter anthem circa Stones In The Road.
Raye again looses his way on the majority of the ballads. “Dear Life” attempts to be inspirational but his breathy vocal and the AC-leaning piano hinder the enjoyment. “What I Did For Love” and “One Desire” are just odd and feature a sonically out of place drum machine that does little more but water down Raye’s usual tenderness into a pop-meets-R&B concoction that’s far more LA than Nashville.
Raye does attempt to regain his footing in the mainstream, though, and you have to credit a man for trying. “It Could Be That Easy” sounds like it could’ve come from any of his previous records, but it just isn’t nearly as strong. “Dancing With No Music Playing” and “End of the World” have the best production (with the latter best representing Raye’s glory days), but they fall up short thanks to weak lyrical content and somewhat scrawny vocal performances. “I Can’t Let Go Now” is just too slow, and the string section makes the track too sleepy for my tastes.
It’s easy to see why Can’t Back Down marked the end of Raye’s mainstream career – it just wasn’t a great album. I’m all for applauding artists when they grow stylistically, but Raye seems like he’s changed. Save the first single and “Young As We’re Ever Gonna Be,” this isn’t the same man who had a long string of hits just a few years earlier. The ballads don’t pack the same punch and his voice doesn’t sound like it’s aging gracefully, which is a shame. But it isn’t his worst album. It may be among his safest, but it isn’t dreck.