Successful debut albums like Brett Young’s eponymous one, released back in February 2017, don’t come along very often in Country music, a genre in which you usually have to prove your worth over a number of years and albums before industry doors open wide. Four straight platinum certified number one singles, one triple platinum smash and an ACM award win for ‘New Male Vocalist of the Year’ was always going to be a hard act to follow. ‘It’s been four and a half years that I’ve been in Nashville,” says Young, a Southern Californian native, “A lot has happened. The first record has been really good to me and I’m really, really proud of it but just having a new batch of songs is like breathing a new life almost.”
What is abundantly clear on just a single listen to new album, ‘Ticket to L.A.’ is that Young and his team, mega-producer Dan Huff, have approached this sophomore project seemingly with the mantra of ‘If it ain’t broke – don’t fix it’. But repeated listens, particularly to the tracks in the second half of the album, begin to reveal slightly wider influences and tweaks to Young’s trademark sound that provide an indication as to where the artist may well be going on the albums that will follow this one in the future.
Everything about ‘Ticket to L.A.’ screams California. The artwork, the cover, the mix of SoCal pop with that type of West Coast Country sound sometimes touched upon by bands like the Eagles. There is more about Lady Antebellum to Young’s work than there is anything coming out of Nashville or Austin. And that shouldn’t be a surprise – wouldn’t it be disingenuous of Young, a Californian resident, to try and sound like Midland or Aaron Watson? What Young does with consummate ease is take the song-writing and storytelling of the Country genre and put a West Coast gloss on it. “A big part of my life has become flying home to Los Angeles,’ Young states, explaining where his mindset and current influences lie. His USP, which raises him above the current crop of slightly bland, often vanilla group of white, twenty-thirty something males currently dominating and, some would say, decimating, Country radio is his voice and his sincerity. Brett Young, and I know this because I’ve interviewed him before, is a thoroughly lovely, earnest, sincere guy who doesn’t bullshit and doesn’t pretend to be someone he isn’t. It also helps that he has a voice that makes women go weak at the knees – that’s not some anti-PC type of crass rubbish – you only have to sneak a peak at various websites and Facebook message groups to see that there is something about Brett Young’s vocals that does strange things to the fairer sex – he’s like the Barry White of Country pop!!
‘Ticket to L.A.’ opens with a deliberate run of songs that are closer in spirit to those on the debut album, almost as if there hadn’t been a break of 18 months between the two. The title track, ‘Here Tonight’. ‘Catch’ and ‘1,2,3 Mississippi’ all share a clear lineage with Young’s debut album. They are all populated by a combination of breezy guitar riffs, intense vocals and California sun. Young spends his time making bold and brave comments like, ‘underneath the stars, we are on fire,’ or, ‘I’m watching all my self-control fall through your hands,’ as he professes his undying love over and over again. Having just got married to his long-time girlfriend you can understand that these songs are not just ciphers or ambiguously bland polemics about the trite and sickly subject of love – he’s recently lived through the feelings and sentiments he expresses on ‘Ticket to L.A.’ and therefore there is a believability and authenticity to the songs that raise them above songs of a similar sentiment that are two a penny on Music Row.
However, somewhere around the middle of the album things take a bit more of an interesting turn. ‘Where You Want Me’ and ‘Change Your Name’ begin to show a sort of 60’s, 70’s 80’s Motown feel to them that is smoother than Young’s previous work. Given a slight twist of production, ‘Where You Want Me’ might well have been a Lionel Richie song from the 80’s. The song that separates the two of them, ‘Used to Missin’ You’ is decidedly up-tempo, something that Brett Young fans might not have heard so much from him in the past – it’s all SoCal pop with its jangly guitars. I can see a video to go with this track of Santa Monica beaches and pretty young things rollerskating down to Venice Beach in the LA sunshine!
‘Reason to Stay’, similarly has a mix of Motown and West Coast vibes running through the middle of it. It reminds me of Thomas Rhett’s ‘Crash and Burn’ and is an obvious contender for a single release, dripping, as it is, with funk and fun. Co-writer Jimmy Robbins is beginning to put his name to a number of interesting modern Country songs now and is becoming a writer of real potential and quality.
The three best songs on ‘Ticket to L.A.’ can all be found in the second half of the album. ‘Chapters’, which features a duet with Gavin deGraw, is the most personal song Young has ever written. Verse 1 deals with his early years of being a huge fan of both the Dodgers and his dad whilst verse 2 deals with his transition into being a college baseball pitcher of note and the injury which would stop his career in its tracks. It’s a very meaningful song and beautifully delivered too.
‘The Ship and the Bottle’ has probably become my instant favourite Brett Young song. Once you get past the imagery of the girl being the ship and Young being the bottle, which brought up memories of Luke Skywalker having to climb inside the open stomach of a tautaun’s belly to survive the night on the ice planet Hoth, you become exposed to a beautiful song, dripping in the sound of the ocean and the Islands. A big step forward for Young and the type of sound that really suits his voice.
The album ends in the same way that the debut album ended – with a piano ballad. ‘Mercy’ was the song that closed down chapter one whilst it is ‘Don’t Wanna Write This Song’ that has that job on chapter two. Cynics may well cry that ‘Don’t Wanna….’ is simply ‘Mercy part II’ but it is a much deeper, much more ambitious song than ‘Mercy’ ever was. ‘There’s a dress in the closet that I just can’t throw away,’ Young sings. ‘I know it sounds crazy but I haven’t changed your pillowcase,’ Young declares as you begin to think you are in another goodbye, the-girl-has-left-and-I-can’t-cope type of song and then just as the song begins to crescendo towards it’s finale we get this line: ‘I left a rose on your headstone, didn’t quite know what to say.’ OMG! She’s only gone and bloody DIED!!!!! I’ve read a couple of reviews over the weekend from other well-known establishments that have questioned why it was that the girl in the song left – well, they clearly haven’t been doing their job well enough when reviewing this album – SHE’S DEAD!!! It brings an extra level of intensity and gravitas to an already beautiful song. Good luck getting through it – is it dusty in here because I seem to have got something in my eyes?!
My earlier comment about Brett Young being the Barry White of Country music was intended as being nothing but a compliment. He has an intense, soulful voice that is unlike any other singer currently on a major label in Nashville. That is his USP and that is what separates him from the other identikit guys currently doing the Nashville beauty parade. He can also write some of the most infectious choruses you are likely to hear on a mainstream Country album. That combination is dynamite and will ensure that he has career longevity beyond just a couple of albums. There is an evolution in his sound and style that has been allowed to flourish on the second half of ‘Ticket to L.A.’ that will stand him in good stead for albums 3 and 4. Nothing radical, nothing shocking but a definite tweaking of that intense, soulful sound as Young plays around with Motown, with SoCal and with West Coast AOR. It only benefits the quality of the album and stops it from being too much of a re-hash of the debut. ‘Ticket to L.A.’ is wider in scope and slightly more up-tempo then the debut album was and that is exactly the sort of evolution that Young needed to present. It’s got his earnest and intense stamp all over it but there is more to the album than just that – you just have to dig a little under the surface to find it, I can see him replicating that run of successful singles with ease too. So a win, all round, for all concerned.