For A Better Balance Of Pop and Country Conventions, Listen To Luke Bryan’s Early Albums Like ‘Tailgates & Tanlines’
Luke Bryan is one of those artists that seems to have something for everyone. The general Country fan consensus though is that he used to be closer to his Country roots, but switched his style up, album by album, towards a Pop pandering style, which garnered him more and more success, but at the possible detriment of losing not just authenticity, but his a true sense of cool. Add to this the fact that he started becoming a real sex symbol with the ladies in the mid 2010s, and therefore, the music took on more electronic club worthy elements and pick-up artist phrasing – you know, to excite the female fans and sell more CDs and concert tickets. My biggest issue is that this catch all sexy attitude is hard to pull off unless you really have the gift of gab – and unfortunately, artists cut from Luke Bryan’s cloth more oft than not sound moronic when trying to say cool or sexy things. Yet I must concede, he is getting a response – yet I would have to honestly say the type of fans who don’t become flush with embarrassment at such lamely-delivered game don’t know the sound of true game in the first place. Alas, they are happy with the big anthem sing along spirit, and happy to be amongst like minded folks who enjoy the sexy party attitude offered up, uninterested in being critical about such anemic commercialized cool being voiced song after song, a vernacular which just would not pass in side by side comparisons with artists from other genres who slang sex in a more authentic and attractive way. Which is why I find Luke Bryan a very talented man yet one who too often throws these sayings and terms out blindly with the hopes of some of it sticking to the walls, causing me to cringe more often than not, even in the middle of song I might have been sort of digging. You can’t pretend to say stuff in a cool way. Especially in recording, you are blessed with the ability to perform multiple takes, so if you can’t get it right with all that production support behind you, and something cringy makes its way on to the actual track, then it becomes a question of taste. Searching for Luke Bryan’s true sense of taste, since I feel he has lost quite a bit in the pursuit of modern crossover hits, I investigate a popular transition album circa 2011 called “Tailgates & Tanlines”, where the instrumentation is still mostly analog, and the sexy-cool-guy lines are more confidently delivered and closer, I speculate, to Bryan’s authentic self.
The Challenge For Me Begins As The Album Begins, Though It Transitions To Some Better Material
The album Tailgates & Tanlines takes a few listens, but I am definitely pleased to hear what I would consider a more authentic Country sound, with minimal missteps. The album title suggests a party and sexy summer atmosphere, and does deliver on most of these vibes with some great anthems and enough exhilarating combinations of power rock and party ready hi hat rhythm. Yet besides making good on these promises, there are a handful of pretty romantic moments, set to both uptempo and downtempo beats. Above all though, I enjoy Luke Bryan’s singing and delivery a lot more on this album than any other album I have heard of his, supporting my opinion that commercialism has certainly led him astray down paths that are not exactly suited to his core style. Much in the same way that Georgia Florida Line sound like idiots sometimes when they appropriate slang and attitude native to other genres, Luke Bryan would do the same in subsequent albums, leading to the creation of the sub genre Bro Country – which is certainly a polarizing sub genre, and for good reason, I say. Several songs herein do suffer from trying to be hip beyond one’s station. I believe in freedom of speech as much as the next man, but language improperly delivered opens itself up to ridicule. The first couple of tracks are in fact super whack – which is not a good sign when trying to convince novice listeners of Country that your album is worth their time, and I’d even offer that old time Country fans would equally be turned off by the stupidity of the lyrical content and deliveries. “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” is definitely one of those bad original songs that a local cover band imposes on the audience in between the established good music. The only saving graze is the sheer excitement of the speedy rock percussion and the raw sound of the guitar solo – but other than that, these are truly silly lyrics delivered in an rushed and almost desperate way; “shake it for the birds, shake it for the bees / shake it for the catfish swimmin' down deep in the creek / for the crickets and the critters and the squirrels / shake it to the moon, shake it for me girl”. The analogies are terrible, unsexy, and all over the place – cus ain’t nothing that makes a girl wanna shake her ass more than when she is in the company of crickets, critters and squirrels – am I right? Go figure that as of April 2014, this song was the third best-selling song by a male country music solo artist. The track is nothing close to being as sexist as your standard Trap song, but there is definitely a pretty weak attempt to turn Country into a twerk worthy number – something that celebrates ass shaking through cliches. If that is your thing, good on you, but even in terms of dancebility, I find it to be a tad bit hollow – perhaps something to do with the bass line not being funky enough throughout. Suffering the same fate - my God, does “Drunk On You” make for some embarrassing sounding deliveries or what; “girl you make my speakers go boom boom / dancin' on the tailgate in the full moon / that kinda thing makes a man go mm mm / you're lookin' so good in what's left of those blue jeans.” It don’t look right on paper, and it certainly don’t sound right when sung.
After The Initial Stylistic Hiccups, Man, The Songs Truly Soar
The experience gets a lot better in my opinion with “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”, a fantastic love ballad, emphasizing sweet slide guitar sounds, and a pretty beefy instrumental volume with respect to the other guitar noise, plus a really driving strumming rhythm. This is quintessential ‘get back together’ music that wins me over. With an extra cool wailing electric guitar interlude, there seems to be enough seductive energy here to actually sound cool. This is followed by “Too Damn Young”, an exceptional mid-tempo ballad with great chords and a very romantic guitar slide. Good banjo plucking color. The hook is drawn out with a surprisingly attractive drawl that really works here. The good songwriting and fun continues with a bright Country Rock song called “I Don’t Want This Night to End”, with obvious Pop pandering parts, yet everything is emotionally rendered, and you can really feel the instruments. I wasn’t sure if I liked the delivery of his verse-list like recitation - it is a bit too many words to fit into such a space, but at the same time I like his technique here a lot better than other times when he comes off as simply too corny or under equipped. I am satisfied with the hook here, which is catchy, but not annoyingly so. Yet I especially love more traditional ballads such as “You Don’t Know Jack” – perhaps an unconventional title, yet a heart felt analysis on a family breaking up, I suspect, from divorce. The acoustic notes are so mesmerizing, and I do love the story telling nature of the stanzas. Plus, the tone captures what it really means to drink to your sorrows at a bar, especially after you lose all of which you hold so dear. The lyrics are something else; “you don't know Jack / double shot, eighty proof, on the rocks / until you've lost it all / and you can't go back.” “Harvest Time” makes me really want to live the country lifestyle, as hilarious to me as that sounds. My whole body can relate to this steady rhythmic pocket and awesome, heavy guitar playing. I love the very creative back and forth notes that tease on the verse. The chorus is one of the hugest and most satisfying on the album. On a somber note, The guitar notes on “I Know You’re Gonna Be There” really gets me involved with the hook. Meanwhile the beat is reserved but really drives it’s point home through percussion. At first I didn’t really like the actual phrasing on the hook, but the catchiness wins me over. Eventually, I am totally swept up in the romantic chords and nature of this really great song. These songs, and more, totally redeem the album, which I feel started wrong, yet thankfully, delivers in an ultimately big way.
I Love How Solidly This Country Album Ends
“Muckalee Creek Water” is another corny effort, like a ‘Dad’s’ idea of a rockin’ good time, reminding me of the uneven taste that is sometimes exhibited by Luke Bryan. These are some pretty great soulful vocals and overdubbing, but the instrumentals are arranged in a predictable manner - sort of corny - trying to be swampy, bluesy, rocking, but with these corny pauses and emphasis on ‘killer’ lines. It just sounds lame, derivative, and I feel uncomfortable in its own skin. “Tailgate Blues” is the only song with tailgate in its name, so I take notice. I like the instrumentation, and I can follow along with Luke Bryan’s voice, which sounds great. Not sure if the hook is complex enough for me - it is so so. “Been There, Done That” benefits from a solid melody, and the beat is hard with steady hits on the high hats and cymbals. The silly pause-emphasis on the hook is here, but it succeeds by not overselling itself. The beat really allows for some serious head nodding. The chorus soars on a higher level, through beefed up sound. Then the album transitions to “Faded Away”, with huge power chords - predictable sure - but really decent. High hats perpetually crash. There is such a soft and pretty transition to the verse parts, and some deeply felt chords in the background, though the louder sounds of the organ, the slide, and the cymbals really showcase and maximize said chorus. Bryan is great with these arrangements. He also has plenty of breath for his vocals, showing to the world that he has one heck of a voice. Finally, the album ends big with “I Knew You That Way”, a cozy acoustic number – where I love how each instrument plays a more distinct and individual part during the verses. The song picks up into a super harmony, which is passionately whining, soaring in a large arch - with expert, emotional vibrato. It lands so softly back into the acoustic goodness. The lyrics are at their most poetic on the album here, comparing a moment in time of a relationship to the epic moments that happen in nature; “the way cool mountain waters dance down to the sea / bound by something strong but still so wild and free / it gives into the passion of the path it takes / I knew you that way.” The key found here is different and more magical than the rest of the song, and this is the type of songwriting I absolutely adore. This is one fantastic Luke Bryan album ultimately.
2. Track List (13)
3. Official (13)
4. Live (4)
5. Featuring Remixes (1)
7. Similar Albums (1)
8. Similar Artists (16)
9. Album Info
- Luke Bryan
- Capitol Nashville
- Jeff Stevens (all tracks)
- Mark Bright (track 1)