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REVIEW: Brett Eldredge’s Sunday Drive – “Sometimes You Gotta Lose Yourself To Make Your Way Back Home”

Photo courtesy of Greg Noire/Brett Eldredge

REVIEW:  Sunday Drive by Brett Eldredge (Warner Music Nashville/July 10, 2020)

Hand it to Brett Eldredge.  He always brings it.  Here we are, looking at his fifth studio record and once again, he’s delivered.  This time, however, he really thought things through and changed up the process in which he created his album.  A wise move, because Sunday Drive, the newly-released, 12-track record from Eldredge, has all the markings of a project that was handled with care from beginning to end.  Perhaps the casual listener won’t notice the changes Eldredge made in making this album, but he went to great lengths to craft it in a way that would make it very distinctly his own.

Most importantly, Eldredge simplified his life.  He took a step away from social media, traded in his smart phone for a flip phone, and grabbed his Grammy-winning new producers, Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian (Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour)  to take them on a road trip.  They headed up to his hometown of Paris, Illinois to soak in some of his Midwestern values, before heading to Chicago’s Shirk Studios to record much of the album.  The remainder was recorded at Nashville‘s legendary Sound Emporium Studios.  In addition to producing Sunday Drive, Fitchuk and Tashian also did a lot of writing with Eldredge while on the road with him.

Ditching a smart phone and largely giving up social media for a while is one thing.  We all need to tune out sometimes, but few of us do that in order to make a record album.  It’s quite obvious the direction Eldredge was headed by doing those things when you look at the album cover, however.  An old black and white photo of two young boys on bicycles.  Who are they?  Eldredge’s late grandfather and his grandfather’s cousin, yet they represent everybody from a generation gone by.  They look carefree, as if in that moment they had no idea that one day there would be millions of people looking at their faces and wondering who they were.  They never could have believed they’d grow old, have responsibilities, probably get sick and eventually die.  That’s how life goes.  They were just two kids having a good day.  Have a nice, long look at this cover photo before diving into the music.  It seems to have been chosen appropriately.  After you’ve listened, take a look again.  You’ll see what I’m saying.

Choosing singles from this album can’t be an easy task, they all have such special qualities, but we all know mainstream radio likes what they like, and sometimes it’s hard to know what that even is these days.  As an album listener who’s more concerned about how a record sounds from start to finish, rather than what track I’ll play on repeat most often, Sunday Drive is a treasure.  There are about a hundred reasons I love it, but the title track, that was what really started it all for me.

The most blatant example of my less-than-stylized writing is coming at you first.  Let’s get it out of the way and then I’ll try and be fancier, but don’t count on it.  I previously reviewed the first single off of Sunday Drive back in April.  That was for “Gabrielle” (Eldredge, Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk).  You can read my thoughts on that here https://thinkcountrymusic.com/whats-new/brett-eldredge-gets-reminiscent-with-new-single-gabrielle/.  I thought that was a nice single to warm us up a little, but I had a feeling maybe Eldredge was holding back some and not necessarily letting the tiger out of the cage, so to speak, with the first one.  I was right.  At least for me, that tiger came in the form of the title track, “Sunday Drive”.

There are those very rare songs you swear were written with you in mind.  Songs that mirror your life so clearly that you feel as though you could have written them yourself.  That is what “Sunday Drive” is to me.   The song all but wrecked me the first 20 or 30 times I heard it.  I was crying incessantly, yet I kept playing it, over and over and over.   It hit me like no song has, maybe ever.  “Sunday Drive” puts a young Brett Eldredge in the backseat of his parents’ car on one of many Sunday drives.  Not really understanding the reason for taking them or that they would someday come to an end, he would watch the world go by through the car windows as his parents sat up front.  Along comes verse three and the song takes a sharp turn.  If you’ve heard the song, you know.  If you haven’t, I can’t ruin it for you.  It’s one that will dig right into the heart and in my case, the mind.

You see, I was that same kid.  Every Sunday when I was young, my parents took me on a Sunday drive.  I absolutely hated it.  I thought they were boring.  I complained.  I got carsick.  I just didn’t understand the point of those long rides from our home in suburban Buffalo to Dunkirk, New York or Letchworth State Park or wherever else we were driving to.  I just couldn’t wait for them to be over.  I had actually forgotten all about them until I heard “Sunday Drive”.  It was the strangest thing in the world.  This insanely beautiful piano and gorgeous voice singing lyrics that were so meaningful, yet felt too painful to listen to.  I forced myself to keep on listening though.  The more I did, the better I felt.  It was the craziest, cleansing of my soul.  A song did that.  I sent the song to my mother and told her to listen to it and I told her I now understood all of those Sunday drives.  I felt like some weird weight was lifted off my shoulders.  Had I been carrying that all these years and didn’t know it?  Apparently some kind of guilt for not appreciating “the ordinary things that mean so much”.   Now that once again you know way too much about me, there’s a kicker to this story.

I got so caught up in the song that I didn’t do what I normally do, and that’s look at the songwriting credits.  I usually look at those right away.  I finally did check them out and was shocked to discover that Brett Eldredge was not a credited writer on “Sunday Drive”.  Wow.  He picked that song?  I wondered why.  Then I started digging around.  I found an article where he said he actually first heard the song when he was a college intern at Universal Publishing Group.  He was working in the basement tape room transferring CDs into MP3s there.  He heard the song and knew one day he wanted to record it because it reminded him of his own life, taking Sunday drives with his parents.  I’m not sure if the song hit him as hard as it hit me, or if it did, just in an entirely different way, but the power of one song can be so much more than anybody will ever understand.  “Sunday Drive” was written by Barry Dean, Don Mescall and Steve Robson and I can never thank them enough.  I can never thank Brett Eldredge enough for remembering it and recording it.  My personal experience aside, it’s just as perfect as a song can get.

Video courtesy of Brett Eldredge and YouTube

We can safely move on now.  Another track that was released digitally prior to the album is “Where the Heart Is” (Eldredge, Jessie Jo Dillon, Tyler Johnson).  If you’re old school and prefer to listen to album tracks in the order they’re presented, rather than shuffle them, this is where you’ll be starting.  Sitting high atop the pile at track number 1, “Where the Heart Is” may seem, on the surface, to be just another ballad, but as you near the end of the record and sort of “take stock”, it appears that perhaps it just might be the first one for a reason.  A cool acoustic guitar intro leads us right to Eldredge asking some big questions.  The song will fake you out.  It just keeps building and climbing, almost reaching an orchestral feel, then suddenly it drops you and Eldredge into a music box.  Moments later it carefully lifts you back up again rung by rung, and then, without warning, you’re gone, vanished.  It’s far more interesting when you take the time to truly put yourself into the music.  It becomes a carnival ride, actually.  Headphones on, ideally with some decent volume.


Video courtesy of Brett Eldredge and YouTube

“Come on baby!”  Hearing Eldredge enthusiastically say those three words right at the beginning of “Magnolia” (Eldredge, Scooter Carusoe) is probably what drew me into this song immediately.  That was a lively start, but it wasn’t the only trick up Eldredge’s sleeve for what might have been a sweet, simple little tune.  It’s got all the foolproof stuff that makes up a good song about young love, but it has something many of them don’t, a much better arrangement.  The way the piano and strings work together make this one so much fun.  There’s a message in the lyrics that Eldredge delivers in such a way that makes you just nod your head and think, “Yeah, he’s right, let’s dance!”  There’s nothing left to do at that point but dance.  I do. Often with my two granddaughters who love it just as much as me.

“It’s a shame that you grow up when you do

’cause all the miles and all the years take a piece of you

I guess everything gets cut down over time

but that don’t mean I don’t go back there in my mind”

If you’re looking for one of those signature Brett Eldredge love songs, “Crowd My Mind” (Eldredge, Ross Copperman) is what you need.  One of the tracks released early, this is one that will quiet a stadium when, someday, shows of that size are once again allowed to happen.  This is a song about a past relationship that only lives as a memory now, a strong memory.  Lyrically, it’s moving.  Obviously, Ross Copperman is one of the most sought-after songwriters in Nashville, so having him on board for this was part of the equation.  The music is excellent, but what stands out more than anything is Eldredge’s voice.  Nothing gets in the way of it.  It’s as though the absence of embellishment is what makes this song so incredibly flawless.  The production is impeccable.

Video courtesy of Brett Eldredge and YouTube

There’s so much to be negative about these days.  Everywhere you turn it seems bad things are happening and people are arguing over things that just won’t matter once something worse comes along.  It’s frustrating, but the one thing we do have is music, and there’s a track called “Good Day” (Eldredge, Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk) on this album that needs to be heard.  By everyone.  It’s not highly-sophisticated.  It’s not a giddy party tune either.  It’s just a casual sort of affirmation that no matter what else happens, it’s going to be a good day.  The song seems to be saying we are the masters of our own destiny to a degree, and we need to wake up in the morning and put ourselves in a positive frame of mind.  The timing for this song couldn’t be more on-target than it is right now.

Video courtesy of Brett Eldredge and YouTube

When I reviewed Brett Eldredge’s last album, I had such a hard time deciding what songs to talk about that I went ahead and reviewed each one.  I promised myself I would save the reader from my endless rambling this time, and I’m sticking to that, but it’s not easy.  With only two left to mention, I know there’s one I can’t leave out, but the other one has me throwing an invisible dart at the track list and seeing where it lands.  They’re all that good, and that’s me being honest.  I guess I’ll tell you about “When I Die” (Eldredge, Tashian, Fitchuk) because it has that positive energy that’s seriously lacking lately.  Do you think when you die you’ll be able to do it knowing you’ve had a great life?  Everybody has a different idea of what that means.

Sure, the song is called, “When I Die”, but don’t start thinking it’s sad or scary.  It’s just the opposite.  This is a song about being completely satisfied with one’s life.  So much so, that by the end of it all, there’s no reason to be sad at all.  Listen closely to the lyrics, and get to thinking about your own life.  Having the ability to say you’re happy with how the whole show came off when that final curtain closes has to such a feeling of freedom.  We cling to life so tightly as we’re going through it, but when we can’t hold on anymore, wouldn’t it be exhilarating to feel a sense of release from within?  To know that we’ve actually done the best we could with what we were given, and that after all was said and done, it was really, really grand?  I think so.  That’s what “When I Die” is all about.

“When I die don’t lay me down in a bed of dirt

shoot me off in a bottle rocket in the sky

so that when I’m gone there won’t be no second guessin’

about the damn good life I lived when I die”

The last track on the record is called “Paris Illinois” (Eldredge, Tashian, Fitchuk).  Just as I believe “Where the Heart Is” was positioned first on the album on purpose, I don’t think “Paris Illinois” was stuck at the end by accident either.    As someone who has listened to concept albums for years, there is no doubt in my mind that Sunday Drive should be heard the way it was intended to be, track by track, in order.  At least the first few times anyway.  The songs fit together like a puzzle.  Maybe you don’t have all the pieces to complete the entire picture, but it’s those missing pieces that help you know you were right in the first place.  The pieces that surround the missing ones let you know there’s more to the story.  Those are the parts that Eldredge isn’t letting us in on, we need to leave those gaps to our imagination.  There’s definitely a connection between the songs though.  I see it.  I feel it.  Those trips back to his hometown are all over this record, yet he makes it relatable to anyone.

So, why is “Paris Illinois” so important that I felt it needed to be included?  I could have skipped it just on length.  It’s the shortest track, coming in at 2:59, but here’s a case of less is more.  Clearly, it’s a nod to Eldredge’s hometown.  I listened to it once and thought it was impressive, and what I loved is how I instantly got pictures in my mind of all the things he was describing in the lyrics.  His vocals drew me in so significantly that I felt as if I was there, hearing the wind chimes, and seeing the courthouse and the leaves turning, but was my imagination skewed?  Maybe it’s my other passion, genealogy, that was getting to me, the intense urge to dig deeper and know more about this place I’ve never been to.  I’m not really sure why, but I needed to learn more.

Eldredge expresses his desire to be in that serene place so supremely, it made me want to be there too.  The City of Paris is in Edgar County, Illinois.  In 2010, its population was just shy of 9,000.  For a city so small, many notable people have come from it, Eldredge, obviously being one of them, plus several professional baseball players and Carl Switzer, who played “Alfalfa” in the Our Gang series also called Paris, Illinois home.  The city’s motto is, “A Place to Call Home”.  Sure sounds like it to me.  If that’s where you grew up, it doesn’t surprise me that you would become nostalgic about it and long to be back there from time to time.  That’s what “Paris Illinois” is about.

Photo courtesy of parisillinois.org

Photo courtesy of edgarcountyillinois.com

Video courtesy of Ken Seeber and YouTube (Video not associated with Brett Eldredge, it is merely contains remarkable views of Eldredge’s hometown of Paris, Illinois)

If we were able to be inside Brett Eldredge’s silent thoughts for a couple minutes, that’s “Paris Illinois”, just add a little piano and some horns.  The key here is remembering where you came from and recognizing how important it is to you.  It takes some living before life teaches us that, “sometimes you gotta lose yourself to make your way back home”.  This song is the sweetest way to cap off an album.  It’s not just a gift to the people of Paris, Illinois, it’s a gift to anyone that’s ever lived far from that place they call home.  Out of all of the five-star tracks on this record, I’m calling “Paris Illinois” the one to place on the very top shelf.

Once again, every other song on this record is worth elaborating on, but I’m resisting and it’s difficult.  Just get the record.  Play it in order.  Listen when you can really take it all in.  Every lyric, every sound, every instrument.  A lot of planning and work went into making it and it’s all there.  Not one ball was dropped.  Eldredge outdid himself and that’s a tall order.  I have no idea how he’s going to beat this, but I’ll be ready to see.

Photo courtesy of Greg Noire/Brett Eldredge

Sunday Drive Tracklist

  1. “Where the Heart Is” (Brett Eldredge, Jessie Jo Dillon, Tyler Johnson)
  2. “The One You Need” (Brett Eldredge, Jessie Jo Dillon, Matt Rogers)
  3. “Magnolia” (Brett Eldredge, Scooter Carusoe)
  4. “Crowd My Mind” (Brett Eldredge, Ross Copperman)
  5.  “Good Day” (Brett Eldredge, Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk)
  6. “Fall For Me” (Brett Eldredge, Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk)
  7. “Sunday Drive” (Barry Dean, Don Mescall, Steve Robson)
  8. “When I Die” (Brett Eldredge, Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk)
  9. “Gabrielle” (Brett Eldredge, Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk)
  10. “Fix A Heart” (Brett Eldredge, Scooter Carusoe)
  11. “Then You Do” (Brett Eldredge, Scooter Carusoe)
  12. “Paris Illinois” (Brett Eldredge, Daniel Tashian, Ian Fitchuk)


Brett Eldredge’s Website:  https://www.bretteldredge.com/?frontpage=true

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/bretteldredge/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/bretteldredge

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/bretteldredge/

Sign Up for Brett Eldredge’s Official Fan Group, The Locals: https://thelocals.bretteldredge.com/

*Featured image courtesy of Brett Eldredge and Claire Horton PR

Think Country’s Review of Brett Eldredge’s previous self-titled album, Brett Eldredgehttps://thinkcountrymusic.com/whats-new/brett-eldredge-2/

*Special thanks to Camilla Guldager



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