Luke Bryan, Crash My Party (Capitol Nashville) * *
Reigning Academy of Country Music Entertainer of the Year Luke Bryan’s victory over safer bets like Taylor Swift and Brad Paisley seemed premature — even Bryan acknowledges his surprise in the liner notes of his fourth studio album. “I promise to work hard every day to live up to that honor,” he writes.
From a commercial perspective, Crash My Party, the nation’s No. 1 bestseller this week, already has Nashville bean counters calling this one a certainty as the year’s bestseller in the country music genre. Bryan doesn’t do anything to elevate this one above the standard Nashville assembly-line formula or the trite but popular style he has championed on his previous releases, like the equally simple-minded Tailgates & Tanlines.
All the familiar imagery and country tropes Bryan’s clung to reappear, spoon-fed to an ever-willing audience who will demand little else: songs about suntanned legs poking out from skirts and boots out the back of jacked-up trucks, teenaged makeout sessions in parking lots, and a frat house full of cold brews with the stray nostalgic wallow in sentiment here and there.
The familiar Nashville studio session pros play within the lines — Crash My Party is nothing if not well-crafted modern country. The affectionate Roller Coaster has an agreeable, laid-back melody as the amiable Georgia boy recounts an old love under the boardwalk. “Gave me a kiss with Bacardi on her lips and I was done,” he sings in a sturdy, if unremarkable voice.
This album could be sold in a brown paper bag. Two additional songs feature beer in the titles, including the anthem, Beer in the Headlights, which should go over well in concert. Both are more tolerable than the thudding arena country album opener, which mashes hip-hop beats and country clichés in equal measure: “Might sit down on my diamond plate tailgate/Put in my country ride hip-hop mixtape.…Gonna sound like a winner when I lay you down and love you right.” Mixtape, Luke? Even his game is regressive.
Download: Roller Coaster.
Jimmy Buffett, Songs from St. Somewhere (Mailboat Records) * * 1/2
At 66, Jimmy Buffett is still filling arenas, releasing studio albums every few years when many of his peers coast on nostalgia, and he’s got an empire of restaurants, beers and hotels to manage.
Still, no one takes the time to write more thoughtful liner notes than this guy. “ St. Somewhere popped out of a toaster of tropical tales that was powered by books that I had read, or stories I had been told by my seafaring forefathers. Like Treasure Island, Kinja and Margaritaville, St. Somewhere is not a place you can get to by consulting your GPS or going on Google Earth. The islands I have spent a good deal of my adult life on, over, under and around … are situated between the tip of Florida and the northeast corner of South America. The island where much of the work on this record was done is St. Barthelemy.”
All of that in a lavishly illustrated booklet in a world of downloads where few read lyrics or include liners anymore. But Buffett owns the label, too. He can give himself the lavish treatment along with an expense account as St. Somewhere, his 26th studio album, was recorded all over the world. The 16 songs were cut in studios in Miami (with Emilio Estefan producing a redundant Spanish version bonus track of I Want to Go Back to Cartagena, which differs only in the addition of guest vocalist Fanny Lu), Key West, St. Barts, Nashville, Austin and London.
But unlike the return to form songwriting that populated Buffet Hotel, his 2009 album, St. Somewhere finds Buffett and his Coral Reefers sailing into Holiday Inn lounge territory on an overlong set of overly polished tropical ballads with lazy steel drum rhythms and slick production from long-time collaborators Mike Utley and Mac MacAnally. There is an occasional rouser, like the rather predictable Too Drunk to Karaoke duet with Toby Keith and, by comparison, the superior Dire Straits-like pulse of Useless But Important Information, in which the head Parrothead tackles Twitter.
Buffett and MacAnally come through with the most winsome melody line ( Serpentine) but only Mark Knopfler, who appears on two tracks, writes a true Buffett song that could stand alongside keepers on ‘70s albums like Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.
Knopfler’s Oldest Surfer on the Beach is everything one finds appealing in vintage Buffett: a smart seafaring tune that evokes time and place, an engaging melody and a warm vocal from the lead salt. Should Buffett pop out another studio album, a new producer who could push the star and his band back to their guitar-oriented roots would be the best ticket.
Download: Oldest Surfer on the Beach, Serpentine.
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