The short version: While the first few singles from Riley Green were fairly enjoyable, the remainder of his debut album, ‘Different ‘Round Here,’ which features mostly older material, is a mixed bag of southern pride pandering and lyrical shallowness.
- Favorite tracks: “Numbers On The Cars,” “In Love By Now,” “There Was This Girl,” “Get That Man A Beer”
- Least favorite track: “Different ‘Round Here”
- Rating: 5/10
The long version: At this point, I’m not even sure Riley Green expected his music career to take off like it has.
That’s not an indictment of his first few singles, though, which were fairly enjoyable stabs at neotraditionalism, but rather how neither “There Was This Girl” or “In Love By Now” launched his career into any notable territory. If anything, Green was most reminiscent of, say, William Michael Morgan from a few years ago – a singer with a likable charm and some very solid songs, but nothing groundbreaking.
And then “I Wish Grandpas Never Died” happened, a resurrected fan favorite that quickly became his breakthrough hit, and one song I’ll admit I was too kind toward in my original review. Nevertheless, while Green had an active fan base from before his major record label days, that song resonated beyond, enough to where it feels like Green went from dropping a series of EPs to all of a sudden announcing the release of his debut album, Different ‘Round Here, overnight.
It’s also hard not to see this debut album release as a bit of a rushed decision, featuring mostly older material from Green (with only three new songs) that just so managed to come in handy with the rise of his new single. As for the verdict, however, while Different ‘Round Here manages to find consistent footing in spite of its jumbled parts, it also mostly coasts on southern pride pandering and a lyrical shallowness that wasn’t evident in those first few singles. For as good as it is to have Green in the mainstream, Different ‘Round Here feels like an inessential listen for anyone other than hardcore Green fans who’ve heard most of these songs already anyway.
To start with the positives, however, the production and instrumentation are mostly solid across the board. The electric guitars have more presence and meatier textures to them than otherwise expected, hence why they’re able to carry tracks like “There Was This Girl” or “Bettin’ Man” with a rollicking, crunchy ease. The sonic palette also draws from the same neotraditional sound similar artists have adopted in the mainstream, with plenty of rich pedal steel and banjo for added accent marks. Really, fans of, say, Jon Pardi or Luke Combs will find a lot to like here.
Of course, there are times where it’s evident when certain songs came from (slightly) earlier times, hence why the percussion lines of “In A Truck Right Now,” “Outlaws Like Us,” and “Runnin’ With An Angel” feel too blocky and synthetic for their own good. And while Green tries out his best Chris Stapleton impressions on more soulful-leaning tracks like “Hard To Leave” and “Break Up More Often,” he’s not as convincing in those roles.
If we’re going to turn to highlights in this regard, though, I’m sadly reminded why I wished “In Love By Now” could have been the breakthrough hit, as the breezier, rollicking textures are more emblematic of what country music can sound like in 2019 without the added baggage this album sometimes carries. “I Wish Grandpas Never Died” might lean into its schmaltz a little too heavily, but there is something to be said for how much that pedal steel cuts through with fantastic presence.
Sadly, though, where Different ‘Round Here stumbles is in its content. What’s puzzling is how inconsistent the lyricism can be, too, as while Green knows how to add continuity to his stories to flesh them out like on “There Was This Girl,” “In Love By Now,” “Numbers On The Cars” or “Get That Man A Beer,” other times it feels like he resorts to pandering and clichés, like on the never-ending string of questions of “I Wish Grandpas Never Died” or the concept of “Same Old Song,” which wears thin very quickly.
Of course, “Same Old Song” is essentially the crutch of this album, in that Green wants you, the listener, to know that he’s country through and through. That’s not to say it isn’t admirable to care about the genre, especially in 2019, but Green often tells us how country he is instead of showing it through more meaningful stories. The worst examples are the title track, which tries to set up a city versus country debate in a confusingly angry tone, and “Outlaws Like Us,” which, true to its name, is amazingly corny. The former track tries to defend how Green and the people in his town uphold certain values, but the problem is, they’re all novel values that pretty much anyone else in the United States still upholds. And if Green truly was an “outlaw” on the latter track, he wouldn’t have changed the line, “I wish country music still got played on country radio,” to “I wish George Jones still got played on country radio” in “I Wish Grandpas Never Died” just to secure a hit.
And, given that most of these tracks stem from other projects, it’s hard not to see how certain tracks outshine others opting for the same theme or sentiment. I’ll take the bright playfulness of “In Love By Now” over the stiff, rigid, frank tone of “Bettin’ Man,” for example, where, in both instances, our character ponders what his former lover is doing with her life now. There may be a nice sentiment behind “I Wish Grandpas Never Died,” but considering the questions asked have little to do with one another (some even undermine the serious sentiment), “Numbers On The Cars” is a far better ode to grandfathers. “Break Up More Often” may not point the blame at anyone, either, but it sets up a fairly toxic, unhealthy picture of a relationship that’s hard to root for, and while there’s good intentions behind “In A Truck Right Now,” showing how one vehicle can shape someone’s whole life, it’s still, at the end of the day, an ode to trucks.
But that’s the album at its worst. If anything, newer singles from Green like “There Was This Girl” and “In Love By Now” show a slightly sharper focus, and he’s gotten better at fleshing out more specific details in his material. “Numbers On The Cars,” for example, tackles problems of memory loss that have gotten fairly common in country songs this decade, yet transcends the clutter by shaping it around memories and activities important to Green’s own grandfather. “Get That Man A Beer” is also a fairly humorous look at how Green dodged a bullet, where the atmosphere is lighter and not as serious. It’s hard to say whether or not Green “matures” in this particular instance, but there is something to be said for how he feels sympathy for the man who once stole his lover, if only because she ended up treating them both like garbage.
To be fair, too, while Green isn’t necessarily a distinctive performer, he’s got an easy-going charm and natural charisma that never makes any of these tracks come across as bad as they could. Even if I’m no fan of the title track or “Outlaws Like Us,” they’re sold with a lighter ease where you can at least tell the intentions were good; the problem is in the execution, basically. And for as corny as “Same Old Song” gets, it’s easy to buy into the fact that Green is just a natural, easy-going country boy that’s playing to a demographic I’ll admit I wouldn’t include myself in. His performances have their benefits, too, like on “In Love By Now” or “Numbers On The Cars.”
But overall, while Different ‘Round Here often sounds good, it’s a mixed bag of songs that, while uniform in sound and content, still share their slight technical inconsistencies. When the album isn’t trying to be as broad and shallow as possible to appeal to a wider audience, Green can dig down deep for something truly meaningful like on “Numbers On The Cars.” Still, it’s an album like this that reflects how, despite the positive contributions this wave of neotraditionalism is bringing to the format after a stale past couple of years, the lyrical shallowness of the material can often hinder an otherwise solid project.