It's a thin line between simple and plain and Jason Aldean walks it with his new album, "Old Boots, New Dirt" (Broken Bow).
Unlike his previous albums, there's no flirting with hip-hop here. There's no flashy duet with Kelly Clarkson. This is straight-up country, with only tinges of the "bro-country" that Aldean is credited with helping create. There's none of the pop or rock flourishes that his Nashville contemporaries have been using.
Instead, the "New Dirt" he offers is built on the familiar -- love songs and tales about boots and trucks. As much as Aldean likes a party, he's at his best with the country ballads. "Tryin' to Love Me" is a smash-in-waiting, mining the same area as "Don't You Wanna Stay," both in tone and in substance. The same goes for "Miss That Girl," an immediately recognizable dramatic ballad that hooks you from the first listen.
That may help Aldean with country radio. However, there are times -- especially in "Don't Change Gone" and "Too Fast" -- when the simplicity of the lyrics and his delivery make the rest of the song seem too ordinary.
Luckily, he does keep the crazy "If My Truck Could Talk," an ode to his pickup that quickly turns murderous, with a refrain of, "It's been good to me. But it knows too much. It's seen it all. I'd have to find a riverbank and roll it off, if my truck could talk." It's a sign he's not taking everything quite as seriously as "Old Boots, New Dirt" seems.
"Old Boots, New Dirt"
THE GRADE B
BOTTOM LINE Well-crafted modern-country comfort food.