Since the first few times I listened to “Country Girl (Shake It for Me)” during basketball warm-ups in the eighth grade, I have been hooked on not only Luke Bryan, but country music. The past four years have seen my music playlists transform from Top 40s pop to entirely country. Even as my knowledge of country music has expanded, Bryan still remains my favorite country artist.
Two years after the release of “Kill the Lights,” Bryan released his sixth studio album, “What Makes You Country” on Dec. 8. Throughout the album, Bryan does not explore new sounds, but rather sticks to what has reached his audience album after album in the past. I appreciate this.
Undeniably, country music is transforming. Sam Hunt’s “Body Like a Back Road” has dominated both the pop and country charts all summer, which held the number one spot on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart from Feb. 25 until Oct. 21. It is yet to leave the Top Five. Hunt’s country pop represents only one part of the shift in country music.
Bryan’s music has embraced the changes over the years, while still maintaining the heart of both his own sound and the sound of country music. This album is no different as “What Makes You Country” attempts to explain the experience of growing up in the South.
Songs on the album like “Bad Lovers” and “Out of Nowhere Girl” resemble the typical Bryan songs from over the years like “Move” from “Kill the Lights” and “That’s My Kind of Night” from 2013’s “Crash My Party.” Throughout these songs, Bryan uses a fast beat to create an energetic song in order to tell the story of a boy’s experience with a girl. This classic country music trope follows Bryan throughout the rest of the album.
The only area that Bryan ventures outside of his comfort zone is the lack of slow, powerful songs on the album. With the exception of “Like You Say You Do” and “Most People Are Good,” all of the these songs have an upbeat bass that creates excitement. This album has no slow ballads, and for me, that is one detraction.
On both “Crash My Party” and “Kill the Lights,” these types of songs were the ones that stuck out to me, but on “What Makes You Country,” they fade into the background. What makes country so great for me are these powerful songs that really bring out emotions, and this album lacks this variety.
Even with the disappointment of the absence of feeling a tug at my heartstrings as I listened to all fifteen songs on “What Makes You Country,” Bryan has the ability to have such similar songs sound different and still intrigue me.
The lead single “Light It Up,” which Bryan co-wrote with Brad Tursi of Old Dominion, tells the story of a man who waits for a woman to text him, or “light up” his phone. “Light It Up” is an intense song that still keeps a relatively fast speed, much like the rest on the album. Yet, even with its similarity to the rest of Bryan’s discography, the song is unique due to its applicability to today. I appreciate Bryan’s use of his phone as the symbol for his want for the woman, and in this case, it works.
Even with a contemporary song like “Light It Up,” Bryan still reverts to his roots with “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset.” This song was by far my favorite on the album. It embodied everything that first made me fall in love with Bryan’s music four years earlier. Within the song, he details (once again) a boy that finds his match through a summer job.
When I first listened to the album, I played “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset” about five times in a row. The simplicity of the song with the chorus consisting of the repetition of “sunrise, sunburn, sunset, repeat” especially drew me in. This song just completely encapsulates a Bryan song, which has yet to shift over the years.
This album truly represents who Bryan is as an artist. Someone who takes both sides of the shifting country music scene, while still maintaining his own voice. That is something that takes talent, and for that, I applaud him.
Story by Katie O’Meara, News Editor
Photo courtesy of Flickr