Luke Bryan didn't have to take any risks on his new album, "Kill the Lights" (Capitol Nashville).
After all, he sent six songs to No. 1 on the country charts from his double-platinum "Crash My Party" album and no one would have quibbled if he simply chose to stay the course and crank out more sweet, easygoing country cool. But he didn't.
Not only did Bryan decide to head in a more aggressive direction with some of his new songs, he doubled down on them. "Kick the Dust Up" sounds like an odd, countrified mix of a Missy Elliott single from the early aughts, but in today's country radio landscape it's practically radical. Yet, Bryan named his new tour after the song and chose it as the album's lead single and it hit No. 1 on the country charts this week.
Bryan has even more surprises. "Kill the Lights," which became the album's title track, bounces along on a bass line that sounds like it came from an 'N Sync knock-off boy band at the turn of the millennium. Somehow, he makes that work as well.
The ballad "Strip It Down" has a decidedly more sexual bent than usual for Bryan, talking about dirty dancing and feeling "my belt turn loose from these old blue jeans."
The shift in Bryan's musical context is important because his warm, likable voice doesn't change much from song to song. Its power is derived from its surroundings.
Bryan is still far more effective when he seems comfortable. "Fast," with its more classic country appeal and clever writing from Bryan, Luke Laird and Rodney Clawson is an easy winner, as is the simple "Huntin', Fishin' and Lovin' Every Day," which he calls the "prayer that a country boy prays."
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Experimenting is good, but sometimes sticking to what you know is even better.
THE GRADE B+