I have to admit that upon hearing Luke Bryan‘s first single “All My Friends Say” in January I was underwhelmed. I knew of him as the co-writer of Billy Currington‘s “Good Directions” and read how he was another guy trying his hand at the neo-traditionalist movement. So, when his Capital Records debut came across my desk I wasn’t instantly enthralled. Still, I gave the record a shot and after playing the record front-to-back, I Like it. He leads off the record with his still-rising debut single and it has gotten better with time and does what any debut single should do, set an artist up for more hits, which this record is chock-full-of.
Sporting a twangy tenor voice thats somewhat similar to Chad Brock, Luke shows his softer side on the stunning ballad “The Car In Front Of Me.” It follows the traditional country story arc of three verses wrapped around choruses. The acoustic and steel guitars ground the song strictly into the 1980-2000 neo tradtional county. This is a song that artists like Alan Jackson and Randy Travis made their careers out of and that’s the true test of a new singer/songwriter. Can he write something familiar yet new. This ballad does that (even if the storyline is somewhat cliche). “Pray About Everything” is the lone song not co-written by Luke but that doesn’t stop it from being an obvious future single. The mid-tempo, Keith Urban melody backs up lyrics that speak about living life each day with the mantra of ‘don’t worry about nothin’, pray about everything.’ It’s a song that radio will love and while it does have the KU style to it, it’s still firmly on the country side of things (as the guitar solo suggests). “We Rode In Trucks” waxes nostalgic about growing up in a sleepy small town. Again, while a tried-and-true theme for country music, particularly modern country, the song is sung quite well and the production never becomes too slick.
The title track, “I’ll Stay Me” features a rhythm to it that reminds me of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with a lyric that screams traditional country values of ‘you can take the boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy.’ It has a breezy, summertime feel to it as well. The instrumentation is the ‘countriest’ of the record so far, with fiddles, mandolins and (gasp!) even a steel guitar solo. Steel and dobro guitars provide the basis for “First Love Song” until the punchy guitars and arena rock drums kick in during the chorus. The production here gives the song a power ballad feel and that along with the charming coming of age love story makes for an engaging listen. Luke Bryan proves his vocal flexibility on the song as well as he glides in and out of tenor and almost into baritone vocal terretories.
Luke Bryan has presented, along with is producer, songwriter Jeff Stevens, a convincing debut album that ends with a memorable song about a grandfather/grandson relationship wrapped around a “Tackle Box.” It’s that kind of country sentiment that keeps “I’ll Stay Me” firmly grounded in traditonal values. While the production could’ve probably been even more ‘raw,’ Stevens does a wonderful job at keeping Bryan from the rawk side of country-rock (even if a couple tracks are country rock).