James Otto
Trying to win over a bar full of Vikings jerseys on a night after another Purple defeat is not easy. But rising country star James Otto did it Sunday at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill. And Otto, who grew up a Vikings and Twins fan in rural Finley, N.D., didn’t even mention the game or his love of Minnesota sports team.
Otto was animated, emotional and friendly. He triumphed with his deep soulful voice, winning smile, barroom spirit and the right mix of country ballads, country-soul and party music, including some classic rock. There were enough y’alls and pedal steel (or dobro) to keep it country, but he also connected with a rock classic, Bob Seger’s "Night Moves," that was older than most of the bargoers. On the other hand, few revelers seemed to recognize Ronnie Milsap’s 1981 country smash “There’s No Getting Over Me.”
Otto, 37, is a member of the MuzikMafia along with Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson and others. He also is the brother in law of Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus, with whom he’s written music. But he certainly came across as his own man.
Looking like a younger blow-dried Toby Keith, the big, burly, bearded Otto did country with different accents – “Sun Comes Around Again” sounded like an island-soul ballad, “Shake What God Gave Ya” was a great party strut with a bit of an old Prince groove, “You Don’t Act Like My Woman” could be an R&B power ballad, and “Groovy Little Summer Song” (one of the best summer tunes of 2010) was very Uncle Kracker with superior vocals.
Couples slow-danced to “Since You Brought It Up” and “Just Got Started Lovin You,”Otto's biggest hit and not the best choice for a set closer. After 65 minutes, he should have left the crowd rocking.

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