Photo courtesy of Jason Aldean
REVIEW: 9 by Jason Aldean (Broken Bow Records/November 22, 2019)
Broken Bow Records is a very successful label with a host of highly talented artists, but even the label has acknowledged that Jason Aldean is one of the key reasons they’ve achieved everything they have so far. He’s a superstar, plain and simple.
Aldean is set to release his ninth album, appropriately titled, 9, on November 22nd and one might wonder what to expect. Has he passed his prime? Is it possible he’s going to go in a new direction to keep young fans interested, or will it be the very same Jason Aldean we’ve heard before? After hearing all 16 tracks it didn’t take me long at all to make my decision on how to categorize this project. Come along with me, I’ll give you a few of my thoughts.
Right out of the gate, I like the title. I think there’s something slick about going the numerical route just before you reach that even ten. Might just be me, but 9 sounds pretty sleek, and it makes me cautiously optimistic that once I round that curve and see the tenth album coming at me, that’s where the really big stuff might be waiting.
Like every Jason Aldean album, 9 was produced by Michael Knox. Not one song on the album was written by Jason Aldean. Several were penned by writers he has trusted for years. Aside from the few tracks that were released early, I had no clue what I was getting into. I threw the earphones in and let it roll.
The opening track “Tattoos and Tequila” (Michael Dulaney, Neil Thrasher) will kick your ass into submission and force you to listen to the album immediately. What a song! Heavy duty lyrics about a guy with a tattoo that helps him “remember” a woman, and tequila that helps him “forget” her, those are a thinkin’ man’s lyrics, right? Soft, slow, fiddle-crying ballad backing them up, right? No. This is a bit heavier, and it’s luscious. I went back and played it again. Track one was a big deal.
“Blame It On You” (Kurt Allison, John Edwards, Tully Kennedy, Michael Tyler, Brian White) had to follow up the first track, so it had large shoes to fill. It did well. Here, we have a more reflective ballad, our newly-single male storyteller is attempting to give reasons why this last relationship didn’t work out. How he could put the blame on the other person, but in the end, he knows he did a lot of things wrong. It’s a tale of getting real with oneself in the aftermath of a breakup. A song some people are going to relate to on such a high level they might find it hard to listen to.
The next one that hit me as worthy of a mention is “Keeping It Small Town” (Jaron Boyer, Ben Hayslip, Morgan Wallen) thanks to its simplicity mixed with some excellent guitar work. The message is typical. Small town life. Trucks, girls in the shotgun seat, Texaco stations, you get the idea, but it has a nice chill vibe and you’ll know the melody and the lyrics quickly. This would be the track that gets points just for being an easy country jam, with some unusually electrifying guitar licks thrown in to jazz it up. You’ll find it at Track 6 on the album.
Did I jump the gun? I gave points to Track 6 for being an easy country jam but maybe I should have held on for the next one, “Camouflage Hat” (Ben Hayslip, Jameson Rodgers, Josh Thompson). Now here’s a tune that grabbed my heart, and when I saw the title, I hardly thought that was going to happen. I suppose, if any two album tracks were placed next to one another properly, “Keeping It Small Town” and “Camouflage Hat” were brilliantly positioned. When I heard one after another, that’s when I knew I was listening to a true project. A real record album.
The flow is perfect. “Camouflage Hat” is another song that explains how people in a small town aren’t hurting for fun things to do. They’ve found ways to amuse themselves simply. They don’t need big buildings, lots of people and organized activities to have the time of their lives. They can do the same thing every weekend and although they may say it’s a “bonfire” every Friday, it always creates different memories, and other than the beer, it’s not costing them a fortune to have a damned good party over and over again. As for the significance of the “Camouflage Hat”, I’ll leave that part for you, the listener to discover. The next time you see someone wearing one, you might just look at them in a whole new way.
Over the course of his career, Jason Aldean has recorded many songs about drinking, and that’s perfectly fine. Country music and drinking songs go together. Everybody knows that. This album is no different. Drinking is a common theme, but I detected a marked change in the songs he chose to put on the record. It was especially noticeable in Track 8, “Came Here to Drink” (Jaron Boyer, Alex Palmer, Michael Tyler).
This song takes a guy into a bar on a bad day. Another scenario that’s been written and sung about in country songs since the beginning of time, but here there’s kind of a twist. Instead of crying in his beer and giving the usual sob story, the man takes the most mature approach one can when he’s decided to drown his pain in alcohol. “Came Here to Drink”. That’s what he says he did. That’s all. Nothing else.
He’s low-key, he has no desire to go overboard and show off any new dance moves or find a one-night stand. He walked in with a purpose and he’s focused. It’s actually a serious song. When I used the word “mature”, I meant that. This isn’t a “line ‘em up, shoot ‘em back” drinkin’ song. This is an “I’m really at the end of my rope and I need a moment to myself and a drink, or several” song. Anyone that’s been there knows what that feels like. Excellent writing, perfect delivery.
“We Back” (Tyler Hubbard, Jordan Schmidt, Brad Warren, Brett Warren) was released as the first single from 9 earlier this year and it’s a country rock fan’s best friend. Jam-packed with electric guitars and hefty drums, I find it to be a fun throwback akin to Aldean’s earlier party songs. Some may wonder if it sounds like a Florida Georgia Line song, thanks to Tyler Hubbard being one of the co-writers. As far as I can tell, it does not. It sounds very much like it belongs on a Jason Aldean record. Let the debate begin.
Video courtesy of Jason Aldean and YouTube
I need to pause for a moment and just explain that I’m not describing every song because it would be too lengthy, but I really could. I’m about to delve into Track 10, “Dirt We Were Raised On” (Rhett Akins, Jaron Boyer, Josh Thompson), and by this point it’s safe to say I was very impressed by this album. The excitement continued to build with each new song.
Let me get some nonsense out of the way first. I listened to “Dirt We Were Raised On” in its entirety and after it was over I had one initial thought. It reminded me a little bit of the Florida Georgia Line song “Dirt”. Yes, the word “dirt” is in the title, that’s the same. The writers are different, the songs are not the same, but there’s a bit of a common thread. A slim common thread. That said, it’s not a bad thing. Not at all. If anything, it made me love this song even more, and you want to know what? I couldn’t let go of this one.
“It’s on our boots, it’s on our trucks
It was in that cloud of dust we stirred up
It out in the fields, on them ol’ backroads
It covers this town like it covers my soul
Yeah it’s in our bones, in our blood
Yeah as deep as these roots run
We’ll never be too far gone
From the dirt we were raised on
Dirt we were raised on”
No matter if you still live in the same place you’ve lived your entire life, or you live far from where you grew up, if this song doesn’t kick you straight in the heart and make you nostalgic and proud of every step you took on whatever dirt you were raised on, check your vitals. This is a fiery number too. It’ll have you raising your glass a little higher and drinking a little faster. No matter how much instrumental power they managed to pack into this song, Aldean’s vocals shine through clear as a bell. Every lyric is right there in your ears and shot straight to your mind. A one-way express ticket to your past with the coolest of soundtracks. In the running for best on the album.
If you’re into a more traditional-sounding country ballad, you’ll find it on Track 11. “I Don’t Drink Anymore” (Kelley Lovelace, CJ Solar, Neil Thrasher). This little tune brings a guy who just ended up on the losing end of a breakup to his favorite bar. Seems the ex-girlfriend didn’t approve of that bar, his friends or his drinking. In a nutshell, she didn’t like much about him at all. In a clever use of vocabulary, the writers created a line that may be repeated until long after we’re all gone from this planet:
“I don’t drink anymore and I don’t drink any less.”
This song has that touch of slow twang people look for in a country ballad, so this would be the pick for most traditional song on the record. This is the song you go to if you’ve been dumped by someone who wanted you to change everything about yourself and you put a “Hell-to-the-no” stamp on that request. You’re firmly in the camp that if someone can’t take you as you are, they can just move right along.
Photo courtesy of Jason Aldean
Gears switch suddenly from Track 11 to Track 12. We go from an almost lilting country twang to a harder rockin’ “Cowboy Killer” (Jaron Boyer, Josh Hoge, Michael Tyler). This is a straight-up, hot and heavy “love” song, just add a heavy dose of accelerant. The song describes a woman who is so incredibly gorgeous she all but kills every “cowboy” she meets. It isn’t going to pull at your heartstrings, but it might make you want to move. It’s feisty.
If we’re going to hand out points for themes, then this one gets the most for “road songs”. “Talk About Georgia” (Kurt Allison, Tully Kennedy, Michael Tyler) felt like a warm embrace from an old friend. I enjoyed that it was co-written by two of Aldean’s band members, Kurt Allison and Tully Kennedy, because I really felt like I was getting some of their true thoughts on road life with Aldean himself. The song is essentially about places Aldean has gone that he’s really loved, but, oh, when it comes to Georgia, that’s a whole new emotion. The lyrics, to me, seem to take a turn from describing towns to describing an actual person, but I suppose that’s up for debate as well. In any case, this song is a breezy, carefree joyride. Two big thumbs up.
The final track that made a major impression on me was Track 15, “The Same Way” (Brock Berryhill, Brantley Gilbert, Cole Taylor). If you’ll notice, one of the writers was Brantley Gilbert and if nobody told me he had a hand in this one, I might have guessed he did. Let’s just be done with it and call it an anthem right now. That’s what this is. A country music anthem for all people. It’s definitely got the flavor of a Jason Aldean song, with a considerable amount of Brantley Gilbert’s signature style all over it. The bottom line is there is no bottom line when it comes to country music and its fans. We come from every walk of life and every inch of the globe. That’s what this song stresses, and it hits you squarely between the eyes with that message. This is a no-holds barred, fist-pumper. An anthem. That’s it. It doesn’t get a higher compliment than that from me.
Photo courtesy of Jason Aldean
As I said earlier, every single song on this record is a winner. Not one that I would skip (unless I’m writing on the album and I have to be aware of space constraints). Jason Aldean and his team proved that you don’t have to be the youngest buck in the forest to make a great album. You can be wise and allow those who write songs for a living to handle that part of the project and focus on what you do best. Be the artist.
The team created this project, and as someone who grew up on full-length albums, I can say this is what 9 is, a true record album. Each track flows to the next in a sensible order. It’s meant to be listened to as it was recorded. We’re all in such a hurry to listen to singles and shuffle things around these days. Don’t do that with this album. Listen to it as it was intended to be. I don’t think you’ll have a problem with that. Every song is that good. Aldean sure surprised me near the end of 2019.
Photo courtesy of Jason Aldean
Other tracks on 9:
“Champagne Town” (Matt Dragstrem, Josh Thompson)
“Some Things You Don’t Forget” (Nick Brophy, Michael Dulaney, Jennifer Hanson, Neil Thrasher)
“Got What I Got” (Thomas Archer, Alex Palmer, Michael Tyler)
“One For the Road” (Lynn Hutton, Brandon Kinney, Josh Thompson)
“She Likes It” (Jaron Boyer, Ben Stennis, Michael Tyler)
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*Featured image courtesy of Jason Aldean