Lonestar released their second album, and last with John Rich, in June 1997. Crazy Nights continued in the tradition of their debut by keeping Don Cook and Wally Wilson at the helm.
The bright, effervescent and otherwise excellent “Come Cryin’ To Me” led the album and became the band’s second #1 single. The perfectly styled tune, with Cook’s signature percussion beats, was one of four tunes co-written by Rich.
They followed with “You Walked In,” a mid-tempo ballad that stalled at #12. The song, co-written by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, is sexy without being overt:
Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout the supermodel world
Cindy, Naomi and that whole bunch of girls
Redheads, brunettes and blondes with blue eyes
They come in every shape yea they come in every size
You know I love everything they do
I check ’em out on every Pay-Per-View
Oh, but honey that was way before I met you.
You walked in with legs up to your neck
You walked in I’m a physical wreck
You walked in I’ve lost my cool babe
But what’d you expect
When you walk in baby love begins
When you walk by baby ooh my my
When you come around, my jaw hits the ground
When you shake your thing I jump outta my skin
When you cross the floor I scream “more baby more”
When you flash your smile you drive me wild
Yea, yea, yea, yea, yea
Everybody’s checkin’ out the glossy magazines
Madonna, Diana, you know the whole scene
The covergirls, the centerfolds and every movie star
And all those pretty ladies down there at the local bar
I couldn’t think of nothin’ better to do
Than checkin’ out a little wiggle or two
Oh, but honey that was way before I met you
“You Walked In,” may’ve been too left of center for country radio at the time, but it’s laughably tame in comparison to what the likes of Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban and Sam Hunt have gotten away with in the past few years. Piano ballad “Say When,” another Rich co-write faired just as poorly, peaking at #13.
They regained their stride with the album’s final and strongest single, the Richie McDonald co-written “Everything’s Changed.” The song tells the story of a woman returning to a now unrecognizable town and the man she left behind who still lives there. It’s not only my favorite song they’ve ever done, it’s their finest recorded moment to date:
Funny you should show up after all of these years
Yeah things sure have changed around here
Seen a lot of strangers since they put that interstate through
No this ain’t the same town that we once knew
They put up a plant where we used to park
That ol’ drive-in’s a new Wal-Mart
The caf¨¦ is closed where our names were carved on that corner booth
Yeah, everything’s changed except for the way I feel about you
That westbound to Santa Fe don’t stop here anymore
You were one of the last to get on board
That street that we grew up on you wouldn’t recognize
Girl nothing’s been the same since you said good-bye
Rich, who was still known as the band’s other lead singer, took the helm on two of the three non-singles he co-wrote. “John Doe on a John Deere” has all the tropes now associated with bro-country expect the woman isn’t treated like an object. Meanwhile “What Do We Do With The Rest of the Night” is simply pure fluff. His final co-write, the title track, has forceful production but not much passion either lyrically or vocally from McDonald.
“Keys To My Heart,” which McDonald co-wrote, is a pleasant contemporary rocker with ample fiddle and steel. The song doesn’t have any meat lyrically, so while it’s enjoyable to listen to, it’s just not a great song overall.
“Cheater’s Road,” which was co-written by Jason Sellers, saw a second life when Chalee Tennison included it on 2003’s Parading In The Rain. I like her version much better than theirs, although it’s truly not that compelling of a song to begin with. The final cut, “Amie” is a by-the-books cover of the Pure Prairie League classic that works surprisingly well.
Crazy Nights will forever be known as the final album before everything changed. Not only would Rich exit the group, but they would ditch their producers and cowboy hats for a more mainstream sound and their greatest success. Here is the band just two years before the craziness, with a clear direction and a couple of worthy songs.
I will always regard this era, 1995-1999, as Lonestar at their best – the songs were smart and interesting and Cook’s signature style fit them well. McDonald, though, was clearly the stronger singer. While John has shown improvement with Big & Rich, he clearly isn’t in top vocal form, here. I don’t blame BNA for pushing McDonald as the face of the band at all.
As an album, Crazy Nights is good but not great. There’s nothing truly essential beyond the lead and final singles.