“What Makes You Country”
BOTTOM LINE Trying to unify through kind-hearted, nice country
Luke Bryan makes country hit-making seem effortless.
He racked up six No. 1 country singles on his 2015 album, “Kill the Lights,” and his new album, “What Makes You Country” (Capitol Records Nashville), is so stacked with hits that it could do even better.
The first single, “Light It Up,” has already climbed to No. 2, and it may well be the edgiest of the 15 songs on “Country,” with its rock guitar solos and Bryan’s R&B-tinged rapid-fire phrasing. It’s no wonder Bryan has paired it with the sweet sentiments of “Most People Are Good” as a pre-release track to soothe any worries about where Bryan’s head is these days. The chorus of the ballad — “I believe most people are good and most mamas oughta qualify for sainthood” — should take care of that. This is dead-center, middle-of-the-road country, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Sure, Bryan sounds most at home on the delightful “Drinking Again,” which should quickly join Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” and Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” in the canon of bar-stool singalongs, but who wouldn’t? It’s a party that is perpetually already started. “We’ll be laughing and loving, high-fiving and hugging,” he sings. “Pop-toppin’, long-neckin’ honky-tonk friends, we’re all drinking again.”
Bryan captured that market long ago with his spring break concerts on the beach and hits such as “Country Man” and “Country Girl (Shake It for Me).”
For “What Makes You Country,” he is bringing a variety of other country styles into his sound. The sweet ballad “Like You Say You Do” has clever twists like recent Kenny Chesney singles. “Hooked on It” is a grinding bit of country rock that pays tribute to Alan Jackson. The arena rock vibe of “She’s a Hot One” could have come from his pal Blake Shelton.
But Bryan, about to be introduced to a whole new audience as an “American Idol” judge, makes sure they all sound effortlessly just like him.