Charlie Worsham's debut album is about as splashy as a summer drought -- but that's not his style. The Mississippi-born instrumentalist puts his schooling to work on 'Rubberband,' an album that will compete for the best debut effort of 2013.

'Rubberband' is steady, with few quick rises and even fewer steep drops. Back-to-back love songs open the project, and while 'Could It Be' is endearing, the best moments come later. Beginning with 'Young to See,' Worsham begins to stray from an over-trodden, mainstream country path. By track five, he's clearing brush with a banjo and mixing board.

The title track is one of the signature songs of this album. It has an Eric Church feel to it. The production team experiment by stretching -- quite literally -- the sounds certain instruments can make. The industrial-rock mix they fuse into this country song is an original. In fact, it almost overshadows a romantic lyric deserving of its own showcase.

The next three songs change the pace, but not the intensity. 'How I Learned to Pray' is a more likely single, Worsham's first chance to serve as storyteller. 'Tools of the Trade' turns up the volume again with the help of Vince Gill and Marty Stuart. It's a climatic jam that fades away into 'Mississippi in July,' the best lyrical effort on 'Rubberband.'

"My heart might as well be one of those cans tied to the back of your limousine / It was hanging by a thread so I went ahead and cut the string," Worsham sings during this warm, sorrowful ballad about watching time and love pass you by. Good friend and fellow Berklee student Madi Diaz adds heart, if not the female counterpoint the story begs for.

Only the semi-corny 'Someone Like Me' stains an otherwise beautiful piece of art. From top to bottom, Worsham never shows the same style or tone twice in a row, making each cut feel original and exciting. 'Rubberband' is a professional project that lets the music speak for itself. It's the record for those that still believe nice guys can finish first.

4.5 Stars

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