If Luke Bryan were a baseball player instead of the next big country superstar, he'd be a prized leadoff hitter with a great on-base percentage.
On "Crash My Party" (Capitol Nashville), Bryan never hits a home run, but he sure does connect a lot. Yes, he's a singles hitter -- in more ways than one.
Bryan has an easygoing, likable vocal style. And he's at his best when he doesn't push too hard. "Crash My Party's" title track shows off his natural charm and his ability to sell memorable lines like "This is a drop-everything kind of thing." "Roller Coaster" shows his sweet spot -- part Kenny Chesney and part Matchbox Twenty -- telling a country-leaning story with a pop-leaning hook that sticks with you long after the song ends. "Drink a Beer" feels equally effortless, the acoustic guitar and sweet harmonies helping convey a feeling of loss as well as the comfort that comes with acceptance and familiar things. It's the sequel, lyrically and stylistically, to Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" and should follow in that song's footsteps right up the country charts.
Where Bryan runs into trouble is when he stretches too far. He struggles with the tempo changes and the rocker vibe of "I See You," while "That's My Kind of Night" is overstuffed with lyrics and musical ideas that never quite fit together. Bryan should take it as a sign that the one time he seems to swing for the fences, he flashily strikes out.
LUKE BRYAN "Crash My Party"
THE GRADE B
BOTTOM LINE Easygoing country and laid-back rock