Album Review: Kane Brown – ‘Different Man’

I’ve been up and down on Kane Brown’s music … heck, pretty much since he had his viral breakout in 2016, never finding him to be among the worst offenders in mainstream country music as his critics often categorize him, but never quite clicking with him further either, outside of a few great singles.

And assessing his overall standing is also hard to accurately pinpoint as well, the sort of artist who’s simultaneously picked up more of a crossover ready-sound and a leaner country backbone with time, able to balance out both effectively but never quite to the point of feeling quite consistent in his overall aim. It’s why I didn’t know where to place expectations ahead of Different Man: “One Mississippi” grew on me a lot and is a genuinely great lead single; “Whiskey Sour” might be my favorite thing I’ve heard from him; and “Like I Love Country Music” … exists, the sort of disjointed cross-genre fusion that I’m still not sure works entirely effectively.

And while I’m still held at a distance from really loving his work after hearing this album, I will say it’s the first one I can heartily get behind from him. It’s messy, overlong, and more disjointed in finding in a coherent core than it should be, but it’s also surprisingly more well-balanced than his past efforts have sounded and may just boast some of his best-ever songs.

In other words, it’s definitely interesting, but there’s also a lot to unpack. And I think the easiest point to address first is the instrumentation and production, which despite sporting some ocassionally clunky, overproduced moments in the percussion lines and synthetic elements – particularly on “See You Like I Do” – also boasts a fairly organic backbone overall. I mean, I might want more of a neotraditional pivot from him after hearing “Whiskey Sour,” but his interests rest more in bridging the gap between a distinctly country palette and a sound that can take it farther – perhaps too far at points, but I can respect it nevertheless.

And in fairness, I also just like him embracing more organic percussion, supple bass, warmer guitars, strings, and pedal steel, and especially a surprisingly heavy reliance on fiddle – not so much to satisfy some country credential checklist, mind you. It’s just an always solid way of strengthening your melodic core, grooves, and hooks; I’ve heard plenty of bad mainstream country albums fumble because of this! It’s why I think there’s a genuine bounce and rollick to “One Mississippi” that works better with every revisit, especially when it’s followed by an even breezier, low-key pivot in “Drunk or Dreamin’” that’s also fairly effective. And it can even work to strengthen some of the more obvious tracks gunning for crossover appeal, like the groove-heavy fiddle pickup anchoring “Go Around.”

I’m not surprised, then, that the more experimental production moments that don’t work for me are also ones where Brown sounds oddly lacking in passion, like the heavier reliance on synthesized backing vocals on “Leave You Alone” or “Grand,” the latter of which a humble brag track that feels both too clunky and dark in the trap-inspired elements to really feel all that celebratory or … well, grand. And that oddly disjointed feeling really overshadows a lot of the front half of the record – made all the more noticeable by a predictably long track length that’s become the expectation in recent years. I mean, you enlist Blake Shelton, of all people, for your odd waltz-inspired duet (that really doesn’t work as a duet) about being different and rising to stardom in spite of not sounding like anyone else out there? Really?

Granted, that also provides a good pivot to discuss the writing, arguably (and paradoxically) the most and least interesting element of this entire project. On a project that runs this long, the multiple boyfriend country moments in “See You Like I Do,” “Leave You Alone,” “Losing You,” and “Nothin’ I’d Change” all feel trite, predictable, and interchangeable, especially when he introduces a duet with his wife in the early half of the project that trounces them all anyway. I’m not wild about yet another song praising the Lord almighty for blessing them with a partner (if only because it usually comes with the smugly subtle implication that they were made specifically for them), but they both resort to it, and it does feel a bit more even-keeled – if still schmaltzy – and grounded as a whole by having those equal perspectives.

But starting with “One Mississippi,” I think this album finds a good, more consistent momentum. “One Mississippi” and “Whiskey Sour” are sonic opposites of one another that both work well regardless as post-breakup tracks (well, in the former, certainly nearing it) by resorting to self-reflection and examining actual regret in how he and his partner got to where they did. And having “Pop’s Last Name” follow the latter provides a great one-two gut-punch, a track dedicated to Brown’s grandfather who raised him like a father that once again is just a fantastically grounded country song. And having the homesick-inspired “Dear Georgia” end the project with a lot of genuine potency and groove in its desperate urgency to have somewhere to call back to is a really solid touch, as well. Again, it runs too long and isn’t really consistent enough to justify the length, but I do also think this is one of the more genuine cross-genre fusions I’ve heard from a mainstream country artist in recent memory. And if Brown continues in this direction, with more time and refinement, I could see me coming around fully.

  • Favorite tracks: “Go Around,” “One Mississippi,” “Drunk or Dreamin’,” “Whiskey Sour,” “Pop’s Last Name,” “Dear Georgia”
  • Least favorite track: “See You Like I Do”
  • I still dunno: “Like I Love Country Music”

Buy or stream the album.

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