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Looking Back At The Luke Bryan Album That Changed My Perspective On Country Pop

Written by camjameson
/ 7 mins read

I’m not gonna sit here & pretend like I’m not a hater, ‘cause I absolutely am in every conceivable way, previously priding myself on musical elitism back when I was but a young lad studying Jazz theory in the early-noughties. Other than dating a few southern belles in high school, I’d never really found a place in my heart for Country music in my earlier years as my only real exposure to the genre was acts like Gretchen Wilson & Big & Rich who were so damned hokey it could turn anyone away; I mean, as a mulato individual, it’s notably difficult to champion redneck culture when they’re the exact sort of people trying to vote away my rights as an American citizen. Over time, though, I found myself softening to the Country genre as a whole when certain Scotty McCreery tunes or Megan Morris joints hit my ear, catching my attention with their bouncy melodies & inspiringly wholesome vocal narratives, though to my surprise the album that really turned my head was Luke Bryan’s 2017 record What Makes You Country – Now, it may seem counterintuitive that the most generic of the bunch turned me on to a genre I had previously ignored, especially when there’re acts with far more talent like Chris Stapleton & Midland churning out nothing but solid gold these days, but something about this album made it incredibly clear to me that people – even those on the wrong side of social movements – really can change for the better in a market as politically-competitive as the Country space, with Bryan going from Honky Tonk conservative with a slightly-problematic stance on underage girls to someone who’s now actively promoting cultural equality & the end of gender discrimination within the tunes on this record, something I never thought I’d see coming from one of the older musicians in the market – Just like that, I was hooked on Country & found myself exploring every corner of the genre itself in the next couple years, making my sonic life richer in the process.

Southern Pride Without The Racial Undertones

As I’d alluded to earlier, one of the largest barriers to entry for me & Country music was this awkward sense of southern pride that ran through most of the songs you’d run into, either going too far in the way of pro-military rhetoric & left-bashing narratives found in most Country Rock music or simply being too subculture for me to ever understand, a la BoonDock Branded’s hilarious “Mud Cricket” anthem. Of all the people to break this image for me, Luke Bryan made a surprisingly compelling case with tunes like “Hooked On It” that celebrated southern culture in earnest over delightfully-twangy Bar Rock melodies or “Drinking Again” that followed more of a Traditional Country sort of aesthetic whilst talking about the wholesomeness of backwoods living, not only putting me at ease with how refined & well-structured the songs themselves are but by presenting endearing narratives you’d easily find across every genre from Rap to Rock to Dance music, tying together disparate ideologies over differing sonic profiles – Now, I’m not trying to convince you that Luke Bryan is some sort of compositional genius who’s changing the scene, as he’s far from my first choice for top modern Country acts, but something about his cornfed bumpkin look & more progressive lyrics completely disarmed me as a listener, convincing me to give his genre another look in hopes I’d find something even better down the line & boy howdy did I discover a treasure trove of spectacular artists because of it, from Red Dirt crooners to old-school Bakersfield Sound players to things as niche as Polish Western Swing music & it’s all thanks to how insanely accessible What Makes You Country is.

Wheelin’ & Dealin’ That Mainstream Appeal[in’]

For all the good What Makes You Country does with its extreme approachability, the same quality also gives the album its fair share of duds from time to time, as to be expected from an artist who’s whole schtick is providing Country Rock aesthetics in more of a Country Pop package. While the titular track “What Makes You Country” is bright & hopeful with an emphasis on hometown passion, it’s also plagued by a fairly generic vocal structure & some predictable instrumentations that make it harder to pick out from a crowd of similar radio hits that’ve tracked over the last few decades, even catering a bit too much to modern audiences by adding Hip Hop-influenced Rap lyricism & Trap-style percussion sequences on the tune “Light It Up,” putting Luke Bryan in the same cringeworthy box as contemporary Jason Aldean who just doesn’t seem to know when to call it quits; These numbers are full of lethargic drum rhythms, repetitive chord progressions & oftentimes underwhelming vocal melodies that either overstay their welcome or feature amateurish cadences, making for an admittedly trendy listening experience in comparison to some of the absolute gems residing within the album – Even so, I can’t bring myself to fault Bryan for the less-impressive tracks on What Makes You Country as they’re still soothing to listen to despite their incredible dorkiness, producing an album akin to your average Jason Mraz or Gavin DeGraw-style Pop Rock performance, something I’ve become increasingly susceptible to as I progress in age. Maybe that makes me a corny old fool, but I’ll be damned if I’m not enjoying the hell out of myself.

Let Your Hair Down & Feel That Breeze

Despite presenting many points worth criticizing & not particularly being the most original album on the radio, Luke Bryan’s What Makes You Country is nothing short of brilliant as it consistently provides the listener with entertaining sonic scenarios, boiling Country music down to its bare necessities – insofar as the more Pop-friendly side of the industry is concerned – & taking you on a ride that you may not love, but you’ll definitely enjoy; It’s an album packed with fun soundscapes & upbeat retro energies in an era where literally everyone on the tour circuit sounds like a slightly different version of Old Dominion, giving more than your money’s worth whether you decided to purchase or simply stream the album. When it’s time to daydream about the summer air kissing your skin from the confines of a convertible cruising down the highway, you’ve got “Driving This Thing” to supply a groovy pick-me-up whilst others like “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset” – as unimaginative as they may be – stick you with the kind of karaoke sing-along material you’ll need to catch that young honey’s eye when you hit the old-town saloon on a Saturday night – If none of that feels like something that appeals to you on a day-to-day basis, this album at least serves to give the listener a solid entry-point into an historically-closed-off music scene you typically have to be born into, softening the edges ever-so-slightly so that you might have a jumping-on point for further exploration down the line, as was the case for me when this record first dropped; Two years later & I consider myself well-versed in the goings-on of the Country music space, genuinely invested in the careers of today’s Outlaw-facing groups & ecstatic when someone comes along who evokes the eighties-era Rodeo Blues aesthetic I’ve grown to love, something I couldn’t have said before What Makes You Country came into my life.

What Makes ‘What Makes You Country’ Good? The First Half Of A Top Heavy Luke Bryan Effort

Written by taylor
/ 6 mins read

Throughout his career , Luke Bryan has been a pretty equal mix of the frustratingly unintelligent Bro-Country sub genre and the more commendable Traditional Country formulas – all the while striking a chord with audiences through great instrumentation, comforting vocals, and something-for-everyone subject matter. This is why the CMA winner has been so popular, and so many people have bought his cds, filled their playlists with his mp3s, and supported his tours (the prolific performer won Billboard Music Award for Top Country Tour for 2018). Yes, he packs the stadium, not only because he is riding or propagating the latest trends, but because he knows how to connect with the audience’s emotional and topical tastes. I suppose I simply don’t share those tastes, though I want to like Luke Bryan a lot more, as I feel he could be even better if he ditched the traces of mediocrity that either plague a part of a singular track, or a whole half of an album, such as on What Makes You Country. Listening to the full album, I must admit that, already familiar with acts like his, I assumed the album style was going to be overwrought with loud, cliché, shit-kickin’ ignorance, yet I’m happy to hear that this is not the case. The album celebrates certain cliché’s, sure, but it is mostly a humble delivery, which I appreciated. Still, many tracks on the tail half of the album are plagued with aimless measures, weakly designed hooks, and terrible interpretations of modern styles in an attempt to crossover. If you are going to crossover, make sure you understand the source material, and make damn sure that you can execute.

Luke Bryan Relates To His Country Brothers And Sisters

With a title like “What Makes You Country”, I go ‘uh-oh.’ ‘Here we go again, with the same laundry list of prideful references that everyone in the business recites.’ True, there is a familiar list herein, yet, because of some awesome singing which is careful to not over use the drawl, plus extremely pleasant notes, and a measured loudness that never calls to much attention to itself by saying ‘hey, here’s the part where we Country Rock out, or, here’s the four-on-the-floor club section”, I found the entire song to be a joy to listen to. This is by no means a sedated track – the beat chugs along thanks to a funky Banjo syncopated rhythm in the background, while the pridefully silly lyrics of “waiting for the fall to finally come along / so I can grab my gun and get my outside on” are surprisingly listenable to me, as these sentiments, cliché’s included, honestly sound pretty darn good when sung with Luke Bryan’s vocal/melodic variety. The multi-instrument hits are all exciting and well timed, and this track, along with other rockin’ tracks like “Drinking Again” and perhaps sections of “Land of a Million Songs”, produce the right amount of power, without being over the top. A song like “What Makes You Country” definitely takes up the mantle of previous, similarly handled 2016 single “Huntin', Fishin' And Lovin' Every Day.”

Honky Tonks And Hotel Rooms

I am such a sucker for honky tonk music – it’s bold, fun, and extremely danceable, even for a Funk and House head like myself. I so wish that there were a few more throwback nineties joints like the boot stomping “Drinking Again” on album What Makes You Country, as I personally never tire of this rock-rollicking formula. And who could resist over-imbibing to a mantra like this; “The bartender's pretty so we're drinking again / thinking kinda dirty so we're drinking again / it's past beer thirty, so we're drinking again / we're all drinking again.” Past beer thirty? Is that actually a country saying, because if it is, I’m gonna start using it. Fantastic instrumentation support this hop along jubilation, with slide and electric guitars, while the in the pocket backbeat motivates your hips to move, yet in all of this excitement, the song is actually mid-tempo and melodically romantic enough to slow dance with a partner to as well. Great anthems have multiple uses. Scooting on out from the sawdusted floors to the hotel room upstairs, I could imagine dropping the needle on the vinyl of an extremely sexy serenade “Out of Nowhere Girl”, which rocks with quietly mixed power chords, while continuing the spirit of the dance, due to some swift high hat lifts and the uptempo nature of the rhythm. The shaker-sounds really symbolize the idea that ‘the time is now’ to make your move, while the wailing hook and guitars also lend a dark eroticism. Fascinating that this sex-laden song could be so seductive, while another, “Bad Lovers”, can be so abysmally corny.

A Plethora Of Ill-Written Or Executed Music Handicaps The Album

A few more tracks show merit, even if they contain more formula than I would want to generally hear. I have a Pop soft spot for the well executed ballad “Most People Are Good”, not just because it is a sweet concept dedicated to bringing a polarized America together, but because I accept that it makes sense here to play all the easy notes, however safely. There may have been aspects of several other songs that were commendable, but unfortunately the album falls apart for many reasons, such as on the Bro-Country b.s. track of “She’s a Hot One”, the woefully stupid, nasal Rap-R&B delivery on “Hungover in a Hotel Room”, the annoyingly predictable drawl-heavy chorus of Country Rock tune “Hooked On It”, the silly-sound-drops then re-affirmed hooks of “Sunrise, Sunset, Sunburn” and “Like You Say You Do”, the aimless, helplessly floundering melody of “Pick It Up” – and there’s issues with a couple more songs, yet I’d prefer to end on a higher note – that of “Win Life”, the last track, which is decent, owing to a balance of bright and somber moments, which certainly hops around too much within a measure, and would have benefited from more patience, in order to highlight what works; the very pretty guitar color that, coupled with some of Luke Bryan’s black key vocals, equates to a very moving and romantic sound.

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.

Written by taylor  / Mar 15, 2019

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    12. Artist Info


    Thomas Luther "Luke" Bryan (born July 17, 1976) is an American country music singer and songwriter. He began his music career writing songs for Travis Tritt and Billy Currington – before signing with Capitol Nashville with his cousin, Chad Christopher Boyd in 2007.
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    • Capitol Nashville