Sam Hunt - Southside Music Album Reviews

The Nashville star blends genres with charm and style on his first new album in five years, a marker of what modern commercial country can do at its heights.

For a clean-cut white guy who plays acoustic guitar and sings commercial country, Sam Hunt has recently become one of the most polarizing artists to emerge from the Nashville machine. His coup began six years ago when he staged the velvetiest of revolutions, wresting country radio away from the bro-country tailgaters and hidebound schlock-slingers with his triple-platinum debut Montevallo. Brushed with hints of hip-hop, R&B, and Top-40 smooth country melodies, Montevallo was successful to the point of nearly paralyzing its star: It’s taken more than a half-decade for him to concoct a follow-up. The album also incited a backlash among country purists, which Hunt fueled with unthinkable provocations like wearing a flat-brimmed hat and singing Drake’s “Marvin’s Room” at his shows. Those alarmists had little to fear besides the onset of what some have called “boyfriend country—mostly populated by saccharine artists who attempt to channel Hunt’s earnest charm without his flair for experimentation.

But Hunt is, finally, back, seemingly aiming to both prove his country cred and guard his status as one of the genre’s innovators. Southside is a variation on Montevallo’s theme, not a reinvention—but if anything, it shows a clarity of purpose that his debut lacked. Hunt pulls in both directions at once, building seemingly endless layers of traditional country cues (fiddle, banjo, dobro) over a syncopated pulse that permeates almost the entire album. The way he threads the country/hip-hop needle is enviably organic, a sly but effective repudiation of his critics.

Southside’s first two songs establish the tension that makes the album so compelling. The mournful ballad “2016” is as traditional as they come, with its finger-picked guitar and talk of whiskey-laced sorrow. It’s the first of a few gutting tracks on the album about his now-wife Hannah Lee Fowler, whom he left to pursue music and then had to woo back—a situation that, unmediated, sounds like a country song in itself. He’s seen the error of his ways: “It turns out going out and chasing dreams and lonely women ain’t freedom after all,” he sings over a wailing pedal steel. But his self-serious balladry is immediately tempered by the lilting “Hard To Forget,” where samples of a classic country song (Webb Pierce’s 1953 hit “There Stands The Glass”) weave into a bouncy beat complete with stuttering hi-hats.

It’s on “Hard To Forget” that Hunt lays out the album’s overall style. Instead of using the massive resources available to him as a marquee act on a major label to ramp up the accessibility and polish, he layers songs with pleasantly casual licks, countermelodies, and even muffled conversation. Additional vocal tracks occasionally make it sound like bystanders are singing along—maybe “Downtown’s Dead,” as he sings on one of the project’s early singles, but Southside still channels the ease and conviviality of a Broadway honky-tonk.

Those experiments tie together moody R&B ballad “Nothing Lasts Forever” which features both Vocoder-like effects and a synthy guitar riff, and the raucous “Let It Down,” whose trap-bluegrass core was inspired in part, Hunt says, by Ken Burns’ Country Music docuseries. On “Breaking Up Was Easy In The 90’s,” one of the album’s highlights, that same hip-hop-dusted backbeat supports a fittingly retro country lament about a very 21st-century problem: trying to get over someone whose Instagram Stories you can’t stop watching (the “dying on my phone” flip is particularly smart). That it feels uncontrived is refreshing in a sea of ready-made Music City soundalikes.

Hunt takes more risks when indulging his Drakiest tendencies. On “That Ain’t Beautiful,” he laments the decisions of some wayward but disarmingly familiar, woman (one would never imagine “You can split an Adderall with a stranger in a bathroom stall” crooned so sweetly) to a point that’s patronizing, if seemingly well-intentioned; on “Drinkin’ Too Much,” he apologizes to Fowler in an occasionally slurry monologue—she’s responsible for its conclusion, a simple piano rendition of the hymn “How Great Thou Art.” They’re odd songs, anomalies on an album that for all of its subtle risks remains mostly approachable enough for a country radio playlist.

But a little off-center is exactly what commercial country, with its endless aesthetic complacency, so desperately needs. And Southside’s experiments are made with enviable effortlessness: It’s a little rough around the edges, not self-consciously provocative. Hunt doubled down on his initial mission—making hip-hop and R&B in country sound hip instead of hokey—and it paid off with this collection of songs that are, more than anything else, fun. He proved, once again, that those genres are only as disparate as music marketers would have you believe, and that there’s still plenty more fruit to be borne of their inevitable cross-pollination.


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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Sam Hunt - Southside Music Album Reviews Sam Hunt - Southside Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, April 16, 2020 Rating: 5

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