REVIEW: Luke Bryan – ‘Farm Tour…Here’s To The Farmer’ EP

13510950_10154187665786031_2471883381807117230_nLuke Bryan has a long held tradition of releasing annual EPs. His ‘Spring Break’ series ran to 7 editions and culminated in March 2015’s ‘Spring Break… Checkin’ Out’ before he handed over the beach party duties to Cole Swindell.

Bryan was raised in Leeburg, Georgia, a farming community. He has been including rural dates on his annual ‘Farm Tour’ for several years and has decided to release this EP to supplement it and replace the beach-inspired series. It has always been a tour that includes a donation to farmer’s charities and a portion of the ticket price provides funds for college scholarships to students from farming communities.

The EP contains five tracks. To date the EP has been accompanied by a video for ‘Here’s To The Farmer’ and a lyric video for ‘Southern Gentleman’. There was a degree of trepidation when we heard of this project. Whilst Luke Bryan possesses one of the best baritone country voices in the business, the button marked ‘quality control’ has not been activated nearly enough.

The ‘Spring Break’ releases became predictable and added little to his musical legacy. He has become synonymous with the bro’ country side of the industry that may just be running out of steam. Those dirt roads on the back of a pick-up truck have been well travelled and country girls have certainly “shook it” till they can’t shake any more. Let’s also remember that this is the guy who told us that “rain is a good thing”. The bar was set low but it appears that the rural context may have brought the best out of Luke Bryan. No one has made more money out of tight jeans and kicking the dust up than Bryan but the time comes when there has to be a little more substance. There have been moments of greatness in Bryan’s career.

‘Drink A Beer’, ‘Play It Again’, ‘To The Moon And Back’ and ‘Fast’ have to be included in some of my very favourite country records. Aaron Lewis’s recent rant about country music included a criticism of Luke Bryan but no one appears to have asked him why Bryan “surprises me every once in a while”. Whilst listing the great songs it wouldn’t take much to compile the not-so great. Happily the contents of this ‘Farm Tour’ EP fall more into the former than the latter.

One of two up-beat tracks opens the EP. ‘I Do All My Dreamin’ There’ is a look back at his farming roots. It was co-written by legendary Nashville songwriter Craig Wiseman who has been responsible for 14 number one country singles and recently penned Blake Shelton’s ‘Boys Round Here’. ‘Dreamin’ has the potential to go all the way again.

The video for ‘Here’s To The Farmer’ is focused on the live show that spawned this EP. The scale that Bryan brings to his live shows is hugely impressive. The lyrics serve as a tribute to the contribution made by the farming community in the US and it is obviously a song that resonates with Bryan’s own family heritage.

‘Love Me In A Field’ is probably the closest Bryan gets to reverting to bro country type but not enough to spoil the project. The production leaves the banjo sufficiently up in the mix to retain its urban country roots and the infectious beat will have your feet tapping along. It might be advisable not to comment about the lyrical content however. Corny is an adjective that can be defined as “abounding in corn”. Probably apt for a farming musical project!

‘Southern Gentleman’ closes the EP and leaves the farm setting for Luke’s take on the way that a southern gentleman behaves with the ladies. It’s a classic country ballad. It builds to the short guitar break and the drum snares and Bryan’s signature piano accompaniment. Nice song but it pales alongside the track that dominates this entire project…

‘You Look Like Rain’ is head and shoulders the best of the bunch. No, scrub that. It’s one of the best songs that Luke Bryan has ever recorded… period. A great country love song that comes along rarely. The type of song that simply stops you in your tracks on first listen.  Massive credit has to go to Tony Lane, Bobby Hamrick and Marti Dodson who have written a song that ought to be regarded as a country standard. You simply can’t imagine anyone other than Luke Bryan singing it.

When listening to this track one has to wonder why his record company have decided to release the vastly inferior ‘Move’ and seem intent upon promoting it with music videos and the like. Luke Bryan is capable of producing timeless songs. We just never expected to find one on this EP. Thanks Luke. Aaron Lewis was right. You do surprise us every once in a while.