Ordinary Man 2LP
It doesn’t take long, after one begins listening to Kane Brown’s Different Man LP, to realize that the artist is most definitely onto something here that might end up changing everything – if it has a chance. True, country music has been surrounding and absorbing every other type of music with which it comes into contact over the last twenty-five years or so (thanks in no small part to Shania Twain, Mutt Lange, Billy Ray Cyrus and Dolly Parton – who have all done their part to broaden Country’s horizons), but it is on Kane Brown’s third album where Country music receives a new injection of testosterone and presents it both proudly and in a forward-facing manner. Now, such an act might not be the single most fashionable thing in the world at this time in the twenty-first century, but that doesn’t mean the music won’t find a receptive audience among young good ol’ boys who like to take their pick-up trucks out and get them muddy as well as among who like their men to have a certain swagger in their step. Different Man has all of those things in ample quantities and proudly brandishes them in each of the album’s seventeen cuts.
From the second that needle catches groove and the stomp of “Bury Me In Georgia” opens the A-side of Different Man, Kane Brown will have the undivided attention of everyone within earshot simply because the singer’s presence just feels so imposing. Stomping drums dominate the cut while banjo and bass color the arrangement, but Brown himself divides the music and pans its channels to hard left and hard right, and the man’s voice alone holds the middle of the mix. The sound is exquisite too; with country tone flanked by both pop and hip hop caprice, the singer establishes establishes a new variation of the form which effortlessly captures listeners’ collective imagination and holds it dearly. For a hair more than two minutes, Brown makes believers out of those who might not have been sure about this music before, and then an incendiary guitar solo issued by Derek Wells takes over and seals the deal for the song. When “Bury Me In Georgia” finally does close down, there will be no doubt that the crew who made this song has burnt the house down – and those listening will still get another two minutes to enjoy the glow until the cut sizzles to a close. Simply said, “Bury Me In Georgia” is remarkable; it incorporates elements of every sub-genre in pop and presents them in a perfectly even mix.
After “Bury Me In Georgia” knocks listeners out, “Different Man” brings Blake Shelton along for a much more emotionally tense and structurally taut presentation that finds Brown agonizing over his place in both life and in the world before shifting gears into barroom country-rock for “Like I Love Country Music” before stumbling more than a little with “Go Around” (which might find some life as a New Country blanket dance number in a strip club somewhere, but not much else), before closing the side fantastically with “Grand” – a true achievement in composition which, again, welds every form in pop together and still plays like a focused, Top 40 country anthem.
With “Grand” closing the A-side as well as it does, it goes without saying that “See You Like I Do” – with its very Phil Collins-informed synth lines and fairly limp beat – plays like a great letdown as the opening cut on Different Man‘s B-side, but “Thank God” recoups some of the ground lost (with help from Katelyn Shelton) and finds a renewed stride with the dusty tone of “Riot”, which hits hard before the needle lifts again.
Now, readers who have yet to actually experience Different Man might worry that, with just two cuts on the B-side which merit mention, it may play a little light – but that is not the case. While it’s true that the hits are of a smaller number on the B-side, the scale of them is equal or greater; listeners will still be changing plates to see what LP2 might have in store for them.
While the C-side of Ordinary Man doesn’t start strongly with the 100 per cent “New Country” vibes of One Mississippi” – which could really sound like it was recorded by anyone. Where LP1 illustrates several examples of how unique Kane Brown’s style can be, “One Mississippi” sounds static enough that it could have been recorded by anyone, anywhere and at any time), fans of Beck will appreciate the “Tropicalia” vibes which aerate off of “Drunk Or Dreamin’” and ends powerfully with the pair of ballads – “Losing You” and “Whiskey Sour” – which close out the side. While the idea of placing two ballads back-to-back might feel like “too much of an okay thing” or like the album is losing steam prematurely, an argument could be made that the pairing illustrates maturity (in a very “Garth Brooks” kind of way) – further bolstered by the fact that both those aforementioned cuts are staggeringly good songs.
…And, as strongly as the two ballads end up closing the C-side of Ordinary Man, that the D-side features still more down tempo fare as soon as the needle drops does nothing to remedy the problem from which the C-side suffered. Complaints and concerns regarding the number of ballads will hold as Brown has the opportunity to sing – and very well, at that – about his father through “Dad’s Last Name,” but the spoken sections in “Devil Don’t Even Bother” really bog the side’s running down. Even so, the play does look up as “Nothin’ I’d Change” finds a bright, mid-tempo spot loaded with lyrics as sweet as honeysuckle, and ends really strongly (in spite of sounding like it lifted a beat from Paul Simon’s Graceland) as well as much the same way the album began: with a love letter to Georgia. In this case though, “Dear Georgia” finds a brighter spot about the state to focus on than its A-side counterpart did, and leaves listeners who have run from front-to-back with Ordinary Man feeling lighter and brighter than they would have if the running was reversed – and that leaves the closing moments of the album with far greater value than listeners may have expected.
Taking the 2LP set as a whole, there’s no denying the value that Ordinary Man represents to Kane Brown, within the context of his discography. Three albums in, the singer has illustrated that he has the maturity to be all things – both artist and pop star – with the style in place to not look like he’s trying too hard. That said, it’ll be interesting to see what the singer tries next; Brown already had several creative roads open to him from his previous successes, but Ordinary Man ensures that Brown will have a multitude more available to him with whatever he releases next. [Bill Adams]
Kane Brown’s Ordinary Man LP is out now. Buy it here from the artist’s official store.