For those who thought “Cruise,” “That’s My Kinda Night” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” were pushing the boundaries of what could reasonably be called a country song, prepare to be mortified. There’s a new hot commodity in Nashville, and he’s been shopping in the clearance section at PacSun.

Montevallo

C
Sam Hunt
MCA Nashville


Sam Hunt has spent the past year teasing his massive fanbase with tracks from his debut record, Montevallo, and now the time has come for said fans to push Hunt to the top. Now if only the singer were being pushed into the proper musical category.

Just because male country has taken a turn for the pop and hip hop doesn’t mean that there isn’t a line to be crossed. Light-acoustic rhythm guitar and the world’s faintest steel guitar aren’t compensation for a tsunami of hip-hop beats and synth drops on “Break Up in a Small Town,” “Ex To See” and “Make You Miss Me.” While it’s true that other country stars are utilizing the same pop and hip-hop overtones, their synth and beat usage isn’t nearly as thick, and they have the vocal twangs to stay glued to their genre — thinking of a nasally Thomas Rhett belting over a synthetically finessed “Get Me Some of That.” Hunt’s vocals aren’t a supportive foundation to build over, given their lack of distinct inflections, and it causes the singer to channel a West Coast flow, rather than a down-South chime.

Even Hunt’s lead single “Leave the Night On” was given the cold shoulder by from country radio (comparative to sales) until recently, for the same lack-of-country reasons. The track was also messy in its engineering, much like the record’s other tracks that sport demo-quality vocal production, with pitch correction so sloppy that only AM radio could cover it up. This becomes particularly sloppy in Montevallo’s ballad sections.

Ballad-writing is Hunt’s A-game. The singer-songwriter made a name for himself through ballad work, having written Kenny Chesney’s platinum hit “Come Over” as well as Keith Urban’s “Cop Car,” so it’s unsurprising that the singer delivers an intensely heartfelt rendition of “Cop Car” himself. Unfortunately, it’s a rather spiteful rendition beneath the surface. The singer cryptically nagged on Twitter about Keith Urban’s version of the hit song, stating that it wasn’t how he envisioned the track when he was writing it. Hunt has quite the audacity to slam Urban and follow up by rerecording the track.

Frankly, Hunt also has quite the audacity in general for fighting every common thread of the genre. If the image, lyricism and instrumentation don’t leave the people with anything country, what’s left? There’s a little thing called “balance” when it comes to satisfying a genre, and Hunt is not one for making attempts to achieve that. Montevallo has a slight country lean at best — which explains why Hunt’s demographic is almost entirely college girls who haven’t dabbled in country since picking up Gretchen Wilson’s second album from a bargain bin at the local carwash. It’s not uncommon for an up-and-comer with an enormous fanbase to be bold, but don’t cross the line for a debut record. Stop throwing house parties and go find a honky tonk.

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