By Russ Davis
On my way to campus, I drive on Pioneer Way, one of the back roads connecting Puyallup with Tacoma. It’s such a nice drive. Aesthetically, it’s like a crossroads where urban, suburban, and rural kind of merge in an oddly harmonious manner. And when the weather’s just right, at the right time of the morning, you can see Mount Rainier. In other words, it seems like the perfect route to blast country music over the speakers. But lately, I’ve been lax on doing that. I’ve been too caught up in playing audiobooks, since I figure I ought to use the “dead time” in my car to do something productive.
It had been so long since I listened to country radio that, when I recently started tuning in to it again, I realized there was a new batch of radio-worthy artists I hadn’t yet become acquainted with. I heard some catchy new tunes from artists I’d never heard of.
Here, I took three songs that stood out to me –– Tyler Farr’s “Redneck Crazy,” Danielle Bradbery’s “Heart of Dixie,” and Thomas Rhett’s “It Goes Like This” –– and listened to the full album that accompanied them. All of the albums here are the respective artist’s debut.
Tyler Farr – Redneck Crazy (2013, Columbia Nashville)
I might as well start with the song that didn’t move me so much: The lyrics to “Redneck Crazy” have applied to my life at least a few times, but the melody left me unsatisfied. That said, I decided to give Tyler Farr’s album a try anyway. The album as a whole is different than the single itself, devoted to songs about cold drinks and hot women. At the least, there are some fun driving songs, such as “Hot Mess” and “Chicks, Trucks, and Beer.” However, ballads like “Hello Goodbye” and “Living With The Blues” seem to drag on, failing to make an appreciable connection. Farr has a decent beginning, but I think he could do better for his second go around. Score: 3/5
Danielle Bradbery – Danielle Bradbery (2013, Big Machine Records)
Bradbery is the doe-eyed Texan who, at the age of 16, won the fourth season of NBC’s The Voice in June 2013. A month later, her debut single, the infectious “Heart of Dixie,” hit radio waves; in November came her self-titled debut. While “Heart of Dixie” was a delightful soul-raiser by itself, it’s all too apparent that Bradbery’s trying to build an album by replicating its formula in nearly every track. Almost all the songs come across as melodramatic, and in some spots there’s an absence of conviction in Bradbery’s voice. Bradbery’s album comes off kind of like a strange mix of an after-school special and a teen drama on The CW, all condensed into country music form. If that’s your cup of tea, kudos, but I have to pass.
Thomas Rhett – It Goes Like This (2013, Valory Music Group)
Rhett’s addictive ballad “It Goes Like This” is a song I find myself singing when I don’t even realize it, so he’s won me over once. He experiments on the other side of the spectrum with the rockers like “Whatcha Got In That Cup,” which, while not as impressive as the title track, still makes me smile. Rhett flounders on stilted ballads like “Sorry For Partyin’” and “Beer With Jesus,” but makes up for it with the strength of frisky numbers like “Get Me Some of That” and “Make Me Wanna.” Rhett appears to be walking down a road similar to Eric Church, blending heartfelt ballads for sweethearts with light-hearted odes to country women. This will earn him some fans right out of the gate. Overall, his debut album is somewhat uneven, but Rhett’s voice and style redeem him enough to make me think he can do better come round two. Score: 3/5