When Brett Eldredge released Sunday Drive in 2020, it was a moment of triumph for both him and those who always heard the potential in him and hoped he would deliver on it someday – a country-soul project inspired by influences and crooners like Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra that offered a refinement in writing, presentation, and artistic identity in general. In short, it was one of the best country albums to come out of Nashville in years, buoyed by highlights like the title track, “Then You Do,” and “Magnolia,” and an example of what I love to see in this genre but only rarely do – the artist striking out on their own to record a passion project they believe in, commercial appeal be damned.
And yeah, that’s the caveat with that album – nothing really broke through in terms of streaming or chart success. I’d blame the general timing of the release, but I could also say that literally any album released in 2020 probably went overlooked and underappreciated. I could also blame it on poor label management and promotion for pushing “Gabrielle” over more obvious hits like the aforementioned “Magnolia” or “Then You Do,” but I digress. I will, however, note that while I do love that album, I was worried about how the follow-up project would play out, which I had already pictured in my mind as the predictable follow-up that’s more commercially appealing and aimed at getting Eldredge back in Nashville’s – more specifically, country radio’s – good graces, all at the sacrifice of that individual passion.
And granted, while I did grow even more cautious after Eldredge ditched both Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk from his production team ahead of his newest project in favor of more predictable in-house producers, the title track to Songs About You offered a pretty strong start nonetheless, and it’s always good to temper pre-expectations as best as one can, right?
Well, that’s the thing – Songs About You is probably not going to be the album to correct Eldredge’s commercial momentum, but it’s another country-soul album to follow in the general vein of its predecessor and, while not quite as great as said predecessor, offers yet another great listen, all the same. If anything, Eldredge is starting to carve out a unique niche of his own within the genre, and whereas Sunday Drive felt like an ironic wild pivot into naturally comfortable territory for who he is as a vocalist and artist, Songs About You feels like a more self-assured leap into even more refined territory.
No, it’s not quite as lush or densely rich in its presentation or carries the immediate aforementioned high-points of before – although Dave Cobb turns in a surprising production credit on “Holy Water” and it sounds great, even if both the general theme and title are overdone – but it does help that Eldredge is sticking with organic tones, even if they’re a bit slicker or conventional this time around, like on the title track or “Home Sweet Love.” Even still, the guitars and pianos are still generally rich and warm, the grooves are tempered, the hooks still pop, and there’s still a generally old-fashioned flair encapsulating the experience. And it also helps that this project emphasizes his more soulful delivery at the forefront a bit better, too. There’s just a mature, good-natured heft to his writing and delivery that’s immediately likable and charming.
Granted, it’s hard to say this does much other than double down on previously established strengths, but that’s really not much of a bad thing and, if anything, contributes to a more consistent and confident listen overall. Sure, you’re going to get inevitably goofy cuts like the opener “Can’t Keep Up” or even the decidedly sly “I Feel Fine,” but they’re sold with a charming swagger that can feel like true moments where Eldredge cuts loose, especially considering how the latter track is another song to address his (thankfully better, it seems) mental health. And that’s really the side of Eldredge this album is built around – the quirky goofball who’s happy unplugging from the world and taking things one day at a time at his own pace, showcased best on tracks like “Hideaway,” “Want That Back,” or the aforementioned “I Feel Fine.” And I’d be lying if I said I don’t find a personal connection to the sentiment.
And while I do wish more tracks here carried the immediate punch of the spectacular lullaby-esque closer, “Where the Light Meets the Sea” – sold from the perspective of a deceased character who hopes his partner moves on from him eventually to rebuild their life and is just generally excellent as a whole – I do think the writing is generally sharp, especially in reference to the more complex relationship and breakup songs here.
Granted, that’s also where my main criticisms reside, in that the moments that do bring that level of refined nuance and detail far outweight some of the clunkier, more languid and conventional cuts in “Home Sweet Love” and “Where Do I Sign.” But the highlights really are worth appreciating, from the intimate piano ballad in “What Else You Got” that demands honesty for the relationship present to work, the roiling swagger of the kiss-off on “Get Out Of My House” that shouldn’t work nearly as well as it does, the inner peace sought after on “Want That Back” that’s strikingly potent, or the softer touches that accent the paradoxical subtle weight behind “Where the Light Meets the Sea.” And really, for as many albums I review where artists go on some form of soul-searching within their art, with Eldredge you can tell a lot of this reflects where he’s at in both his career and life in general. And it’s paid off in spades with yet another great project overall.
- Favorite tracks: “Can’t Keep Up,” “Songs About You,” “I Feel Fine,” “What Else Ya Got,” “Hideaway,” “Get Out Of My House,” “Want That Back,” “Where the Light Meets the Sea”
- Least favorite track: “Home Sweet Love”