Shifting through different genres but always staying true to his roots, Kane Brown has been one of the most successful country cross-over acts of the past decade. After raising his profile and scoring his first #1 album with his last project, 2018’s appropriately titled Experiment, Brown’s third studio album mostly sees him returning to his comfort zone – with a couple exceptions sprinkled across the tracklist. Mixing in the charisma of his R&B leanings with the catchy melodies and occasional clever songwriting twist of his home genre, it’s a solid place to be. Brown delivers another competent if somewhat repetitive and uninspiring set of tracks here, but favourites will certainly rise to the top and stick around for anyone with any kind of predisposition to the twangier side of things – though a good handful of tracks here certainly turn up the amplifiers and verge on Southern rock.
The project kicks off a little heavier than expected with the track “Bury Me In Georgia,” one of two odes to his home state that certainly sets the tone with some dramatic energy. Reaching down to his lowest register and putting a filter on his voice that brings out the vintage feel even more, Brown muses on not caring about any circumstances surrounding his death and funeral except for the location he comes to rest in, a dynamic instrumental of electric guitar and fiddle arpeggios behind him. It all leads up to a couple thrashing guitar solos and a half-time final chorus built for a live setting. The title track “Different Man” follows a strangely common theme in mainstream country lately – a track imagining their mundane daily life if they hadn’t hit it big – and it doesn’t punch as hard as some of its sister tracks lyrically, only really scratching the surface level on one of the only boring choruses on the project. Blake Shelton adds some authenticity with his traditionally rustic tone, but if you’re looking for a track minus any notion of “cross-over potential,” it’s the single “Like I Love Country Music.” With plenty of references – delivered in an endearingly nerdy tone – and a twangy accent and instrumental reminiscent of old-school Shania Twain, Brown equates his love for his partner to his love for Brooks & Dunn and the like and closes it out with a fun piano solo and instrumental jam session. The instrumentals carry things a lot of the time, being more involved than most of his country contemporaries – “Go Around” is a charismatic if rather basic country tune begging to be given a romantic chance, but the main violin hook is what makes it truly memorable.
The album’s biggest stylistic switch-up has to be the track “Grand,” which sounds like a mid-2010s Drake or Chris Brown song – it’s a surprisingly effective piece of nostalgia for the time when everything had to sound epic, melodramatic and self-serious, a time that mostly hasn’t aged well. With a knocking trap beat in the forefront of the mix, it’s nice to hear Brown’s versatility with a very catchy hook just celebrating life. The song leads into a trio of adorably romantic tunes, all of which finding Brown completely believably lovestruck and passionate in terms of his vocal delivery, elevating songs that might have been otherwise bland. “Leave You Alone” has that wedding-song waltz tempo and the Ed Sheeran-style charm as he looks 50 years down the road, while “Thank God” recruits his actual wife Katelyn for an incredibly cute duet toasting to the divine powers above for bringing them together. Kane has called Katelyn his “secret weapon,” and it makes sense – she’s a pretty incredible vocalist herself. The best of the bunch is “See You Like I Do,” which combines country slide guitars with the dancier pop trends of today. Over a funky syncopated beat and some shining synths, Brown takes an overdone sentiment and makes it his own, with some instrumental quirks and a guitar solo at the end to drive it home.
The sentiment switches pretty quickly after that. The track “Riot” probably could have been cut in today’s climate, as Brown unfortunately plays into what’s likely a good chunk of his base’s fantasy of killing in self-defence and “defending [his] home” with a couple references to his firearms. It’s a message as unappealing as the echoey, overprocessed falsetto vocals on the hook. This leads into single “One Mississippi,” released in the summer of last year and now holding up as one of the weaker choices – still, it’s a decent and formulaic country track with a fun lyrical twist in the look and clearly designed to be sung in a crowd. The track “Drunk or Dreamin’,” however, kicks off another strong run near the album’s conclusion. With an island flavour and a carefree attitude, Brown tells the story of an angel descending upon him in a bar – and things actually going well! The cheesiness of the instrumental matches the song’s head-in-the-clouds vibe, Brown’s delivery evoking the first date butterflies in musical form. The song truly makes you feel drunk, whether it’s on whiskey, love, or both. “Losing You,” as well, is as solid as they come when it comes to the tropey country tunes where you pick a topic and riff on it with a lengthy list – this one being all of the things Brown is less afraid of than losing his partner. The instrumental builds up and crashes in just the way you want, and a couple poignant lyrics past the typical monsters and ghosts stand out.
The album winds down with a couple more unique tracks and generic, yet touching dedications. “Whiskey Sour” sees Brown absolutely selling a brokenhearted drinking-away-my-sorrows track as well as his lovestruck anthems, running through some detailed lyrics and sounding crushed over some somber acoustics and tearful violins, while “Devil Don’t Even Bother” hearkens back to some classic techniques as Brown uses his deep voice to tell the story of a girl so fearsome that Satan himself steers clear with a spoken-word drawl. Scattered elsewhere at the end are “Pop’s Last Name,” an ode to Brown’s late stepfather and all that he taught him, as well as a relatively obsolete romantic track in “Nothin’ I’d Change” and a final stamp toasting to his home as he finds himself needed all around the country on “Dear Georgia.”
Kane Brown has seen success in so many avenues for a reason – he’s an obvious music fan in many genres, and he’s also a natural storyteller, which he communicates through his lyricism and delivery. While mainstream country is rarely going to deliver a masterpiece album, mostly sticking to formula, this one’s near the top of that formulaic mountain.
Favourite Tracks: See You Like I Do, Drunk Or Dreamin’, Losing You, Grand, Leave You Alone
Least Favourite Track: Riot