Luke Bryan, What Makes You Country | Album Review
Country music superstar Luke Bryan returns with an enjoyable, well-rounded 6th studio album in ‘What Makes You Country.’ Nothing brand-new, but consistent.
Luke Bryan is currently one of the most successful country artists. It seems that he has ‘the Midas touch.’ After a two-year hiatus (excluding his Farm Tour…Here’s to the Farm EP), Bryan returns with a highly-anticipated new studio album, What Makes You Country. The results are ultimately successful, if nothing ‘brand new.’
“What Makes You Country”
Opener “What Makes You Country” features a heavy groove from the jump. It has a souped-up, countrified sound. Luke Bryan delivers assertive vocals, chocked-full of country twang. The songwriting is catchy, particularly the pre-chorus, which is consistent throughout.
“You could be a cowboy on the Texas plain / Or a plowboy waitin’ on the rain / We’re all a little different but we’re all the same / Everybody doin’ their own thing.”
Perhaps redundant, the best way to describe the chorus is countrified, exemplifying the southern experience. Essentially, Bryan cites everything that makes him country. Two varying choruses are used. All in all, the energy is excellent from start to finish, while the song itself is a superb fit for Bryan.
“Out of Nowhere Girl” contrasts the traditional, countrified sound of the title track. There’s a bit more of a pop vibe, particularly on the first verse. Even so, the pop vibes are subtler compared to the likes of “Light It Up” or the majority of contemporary country that blurs country music lines. The prominence of the banjo, and ultimately the full-fledged country cues on the chorus, solidify its country status. The chorus is incredibly catchy and well-performed.
“Light It Up”
“Light It Up,” the promo single, keeps things short and sweet. Clocking in under three minutes in duration, the brevity pays off. The production work is slick, firmly planted in the new vein of country. Still, even with the pop cues in play, it’s not devoid of country by any means. The chorus is the crème de la crème. It’s big, intense, and filled with objectophilia. Bryan is infatuated with a lady (normal). But, he essentially develops a ‘relationship’ with his phone because he’s become obsessed with what his lady is doing (paraphilia). “Light It Up” likely won’t please country traditionalists due to its pop ambitions, but should play well with more the more liberal, contemporary country fans.
“Most People Are Good” encompasses living traditionally, morally, and having faith that most people are trying to do the same. Bryan successfully sells and conveys that message throughout. It isn’t a game changing or transcendent, but the message carries weight. Who wouldn’t want peace and harmony without disruptions from the non-team players? If nothing more, his heart is in the right place. The song is beautiful, well-sung, and well-executed. The message sounds good, if ‘easier said than done.’
“Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset”
Bryan sounds rock-solid on “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset,” continuing on in full-fledged, country mode. There’s no new ground broken or much out of the ordinary, but “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset” is consistent and enjoyable. “Bad Lovers” follows pleasantly, slackening the pace. It’s not filled with frills, but respectable and solidly executed. The mid-tempo “Drinking Again” gives Bryan his obligatory song about beer. It’s simple, southern, and that’s about it. There’s little substance, save for the “ice cold ones” ole boy sings about so endearingly.
Following all that beer drinking, “Land of a Million Songs” finds him singing about the songwriting process. He bests exemplifies that process on the choruses:
“So, you’re always searching for a little something different to say / And the Bible from a woman who’s standing on the stage / You get told you’re fitting in, you get told you don’t belong / …You listen to ’em laugh and you listen to ’em curse / You find your old guitar and write down another verse / In the land of a million songs.”
“Like You Say You Do,” like much of What Makes You Country, is good without being particularly distinct. It’s well-sung and successful enough, but will anyone remember it a year from now or beyond?
“Hooked on It,”
“Hooked on It,” restores some oomph to What Makes You Country. The ‘country’ sound is intact here, with nothing pop-oriented about “Hooked on It.” This is a country record by a country artist through and through. Musically, there’s assertive electric guitar, prominent use of the banjo, and heavy, acoustic drums – no drum programming. While this is unapologetically country, it has the potential to be crowd-pleasing and successful on country radio – even to a degree on pop radio. All in all, “Hooked on It” is filled with goodness; it’s rock solid, catchy, countrified, spirited, and well-rounded.
“She’s a Hot One” feeds off the momentum of “Hooked on It,” keeping the energy turned up to the nth degree. This isn’t new fare for Bryan, singing about a “hot girl,” but he’s flexing and continues to be successful in this department. Nothing brand new, but sufficient. “Hungover in a Hotel Room” returns the 41-year old to his drinking ways, or rather, the aftermath. Furthermore, it embraces more pop cues, even if he doesn’t abandon country. On the chorus, he recounts the experience.
“Then it was room 704, hang a sign on the door / Gucci falling on the floor with the lights down low / Dancing in the dark, body killing me /… Spent the whole night last night all messed up, making love / Girl, I swear I’ve never felt this good / Waking up hungover in a hotel room.”
“Pick it Up”
By the thirteenth song, “Pick it Up,” What Makes You Country begins to feel a bit long, despite its 51-minute length. “Pick it Up” is okay, but nothing monumental. The same can be said of the driving “Driving This Thing.” It’s good, nothing incredibly objectionable, but also, nothing ‘earth-shattering.’ “Win Life” concludes thoughtfully – “drunk in love.”
All in all, What Makes You Country gives Luke Bryan another solid, enjoyable album. He doesn’t break new ground or do anything unexpected, but, it’s well-assembled. Positively, he doesn’t rely on pop to fuel his fire this round. Still, at times, it would be nice to see Bryan get out of his box or try something to shake up the formula. No harm, no foul though.
Gems: “What Makes You Country,” “Out of Nowhere Girl,” “Light it Up,” “Most People are Good,” “Hooked on It” & “She’s a Hot One”
Luke Bryan • What Makes You Country • Capitol • Release: 12.8.17
Photo Credit: Capitol