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Other than Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean is the biggest star country music has produced in the last few years. Unlike Swift and Lady A, he has not crossed over into pop, so the first time many folks heard his name may have been when he got caught a few weeks ago canoodling with someone he shouldn’t have been canoodling with.
If the broader name recognition (regardless of how ignominiously it came about) causes potential new fans to check out his music, then “Night Train” is a good place to come in on. Out today, “Night Train,” which is almost certain to top the charts next week, continues the story started on 2010’s “My Kinda Party,” one of the top-selling albums that year for all genres and a Grammy nominee for best country album.
The 15-track “Night Train,” Aldean’s fifth album, doesn’t necessarily advance Aldean’s artistry beyond “Party,” but that’s because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The songs here are uniformly punchy, catchy, well-played and well-sung in Aldean’s slightly nasally, sturdy vocals. Country radio still sells albums and Aldean easily has five singles here, including first single, the invitingly breezy “Take A Little Ride,” which already topped Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart.
Aldean embraces the usual country tropes about life in a small town —its virtues and its claustrophobia— and cars In “Night Train.” The title track serves up that one of the few escapes from daily life includes going to listen to the train roll through town with his lover. They get to the look-out spot in their truck, of course. On “Talk,” the time for chat is over: “I don’t want to waste that moon and the heat on the hood of this Ford.”
Most of the songs here are mid-tempo, and the album could definitely use a little more variety in that regard, but mid-tempo is Aldean’s sweet spot, especially when it comes to loves lost and found. On both “When She Says Baby” and “Staring At The Sun,” he extols the virtues of coming home from a long, hard day to the woman he can’t forget. Sure single, “I Don’t Do Lonely Well,” conjures up the pain that heartache brings in those moments when he has have nothing else to distract him from the hurt that still coats him.
Aldean hit it big on the last album with “Dirt Road Anthem,” which featured him rapping. He’s comfortable enough to return to that trick, speaking much of the lyrics on “The Only Way I Know.” He’s joined by his buddies Luke Bryan and Eric Church on the anthem to going “full throttle” 24/7.
Aldean wrote none of the songs on “Night Train,” but at this juncture in his career, he is going to get the absolute pick of the litter when it comes to Music City songwriters pitching him their Grade A material. He also knows what works for him and what his male fans want (songs to raise hell by) and what his female fans want (songs to romance by) and he sings each style with equal conviction. There’s nothing here that sounds inauthentic.
While undeniably country, Aldean grew up on rock, and screeching guitar solos rise out of almost every song. They’re a bit cliche and overdone at times, but the songs will undoubtedly benefit from the rock treatment when he cranks them up on the road, especially on “Wheels Rollin’,” a meaty tour anthem that combines Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page” with Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead Or Alive.”
That’s not to say everything here works. “Black Tears” is a song about an exotic dancer and her sob story that goes nowhere. “1994” is a very silly, though very catchy, song about longing to turn the clock back and contains a major shout out to Joe Diffie, who scored a number of hits in the mid-‘90s. The “Hey Joe, c’mon and teach us how to Diffie,” line will either make you laugh or drive you crazy, as will the “Joe, Joe, Joe Diffie” chant. The novelty song sounds something much more akin to a tune Big & Rich would do, but Aldean’s earned the right to be goof if he wants to. And Joe Diffie owes him a big old thank you.
“Night Track” seldom slips off the tracks. It’s a sure-wheeled, confident album from a superstar with a very firm grasp of what works for him. It may not be adventurous, but it’s more than enough to keep his millions of fans eager to hop aboard.