Arkansas native, Justin Moore’s fifth studio album, produced and co-written by Jeremy Stover, and Moore and Stover’s select team of collaborators and cohorts sees Moore swinging back around to a more traditional sound after the experimentation of his previous album, ‘Kinda Don’t Care’. The paradox for Moore is that whilst a number of his harder-core fans were a little disappointed with the pop-leaning sound of ‘Kinda Don’t Care’ it did yield two of his biggest ever hits in ‘You Look Like I Need a Drink’ and ‘Somebody Else Will’.
Justin Moore is kinda (see what I did there?) in the same position as fellow hat wearer Dustin Lynch. Lynch recently bared his soul on Bobby Bones’ ‘Bobbycast’ podcast, asking the Nashville based DJ for advice on how to move out of the second tier of Country artists, believing that he is floating somewhere around a solid B grade or maybe even B+. Justin Moore currently finds himself somewhere in the same boat, stuck around that middle B grade of artist, plugging away with different sounds across different albums whilst resolutely sticking to his hat image and seemingly unwilling to dig deeper beyond the familiar lyrical tropes of girls, hats, trucks and drinking.
Well, the good news for Moore’s fans is that ‘Late Nights and Longnecks’ does see Justin Moore stretching himself lyrically in a number of songs whilst maybe taking a step backwards (and that isn’t a criticism) in his sound, back to more traditional structures, steel guitars and safer pastures.
Whilst the beating heart of ‘Late Nights and Long Necks’ remains tried and tested territory there are a number of songs that show fans and listeners a little more of the person Moore is underneath the hat. When Dustin Lynch asked Bobby Bones what it is he needs to do to take that next step up a level as an artist I wanted to be able to tell him that he has to give us more – more of who he actually is, more of who he wants to be and more of the real person he is, warts and all, instead of just being a guy in a hat and I would offer Justin Moore the same advice. So, ‘Late Nights and Longnecks’ sees Moore offering us ‘My Boy’, second track in, a song about his son that is a nice mix of the old traditional 90’s mainstream Country sound that has a few modern production flourishes around the edges and one of many Bon Jovi-esque guitar solos on the album. The song reveals a little depth and a personal touch from Justin Moore as he sings about his aspirations and hopes for his son.
We also get hit single, ‘Ones that Didn’t Make it Back Home’, which whilst not being a particularly personal song, still provides us with a little depth and meaning as Moore sings a believable tale about a 22 year old soldier who doesn’t make it back home. The song has a huge singable chorus and as I write this it is currently sitting at number 3 in the airplay charts, so more people than just me have taken to its warmth and believability.
‘Someday I Gotta Quit also sees Moore in storytelling mode. It’s a song about addictions and an interesting exploration of weakness. Again, similar to ‘My Boy’, it sees Moore caught somewhere between the old and new, with its modern guitar sound & production juxtaposed up against a very traditional sounding chorus and structure. I love the steel guitars in this track and the short but very effective electric guitar solo that comes right out of the Richie Sambora playbook. Moore turns the song on its head in the last line as he sings, “I’m missing the girl that started all of this, damn, someday I gotta quit,” as you come to realise the root cause of all his addictions to nicotine, alcohol and girls. It’s a clever finish to an interesting but ultimately safe song.
Drinking features heavily on the album, but then that shouldn’t be a surprise, should it, given the nature of the title? Most obvious choice for next single and contender for best song on the album is opener, ‘Why We Drink’. Co-written with 90’s legend, David Lee Murphy, ‘Why We Drink’ is a rousing, bombastic and joyous song about all the reasons why alcohol is so appealing to us. It’s a huge singalong and maybe the best drinking song I’ve heard in years. There are some clever lyrics that rhyme ‘drink’ with lines like, ‘It’s cheaper than a dang old shrink,’ or ‘It’s alcohol abuse if you pour one down the sink’ both of which are good, old Country gold. Safe, again, but gold. I hope Moore’s team lets this one go to radio after ‘Ones That Didn’t Make it Back Home’ has run its course – it would be a good look for him and a good follow up to such a poignant and serious song.
Jack Daniels also gets a look in on track 4 with ‘Jesus and Jack Daniels’, a song about the yin and the yang of a parental relationship, the mother being the one who believes in the former and the father, the latter. The song itself is fine, a pleasant enough mid-paced track even if the theme and the lyrics are a little clichéd and have been done before. We also get another drinking song set, this time, in an airport bar, called, wait for it………………………. ‘Airport Bar’. I actually like the theme and the lyrical content of this song more than the song itself. Moore has left the girl and fled, tickets in hand, to the airport but he can’t quite will himself to leave the bar. He’s missed his flight and is getting sozzled instead. ‘In my mind,’ he sings, ‘the wheels are up and I’m on my way to over us.’ It’s another mid-paced song about drinking but it’s set in an interesting place and is a fine album track in its own right.
‘Late Nights and Longnecks’, at just 10 tracks long, is a real punk-country album. Short and to the point. It contains maybe 1 or 2 too many mid-paced tracks but one of the more up-tempo moments is provided by ‘Small Town Street Cred’. Imagine Trace Adkins releasing the sequel to ‘Hillbilly Bone’ and you would be somewhere in the right ballpark with this one. It’s a southern tinged, funky rocker packed with familiar images of trucks, girls and Friday night lights. The lyrics, this time, are the most clichéd thing about the song, offering the same sentiments we’ve heard a million times since the invention of Bro-Country but the music is good to listen to and with the song having an extended ‘rock-out’ outro I can see a place for this track within Moore’s live show. Similarly, ‘Never Gonna Drink Again’ which is a bombastic, drum-driven number about how the crops have gone dry, the fish wont bite, the money has gone and the girlfriend has got herself a girlfriend of her own, fits in nicely somewhere between classic Blake Shelton and old school Tim McGraw. This track also has an extended guitar outro and some serious 90’s Country vibes, making it a fun, if unchallenging listen.
The best song on ‘Late Nights and Longnecks’ is the simply superb ‘On the Rocks’. This would be my choice for third and final single from the album before ushering Moore back into the studio with the brief to make a more challenging and more personal sixth album. ‘Rocks’ is a bluesy ballad that contains big vocals and big aspirations. The addition of a female backing vocalist to sing alongside Moore is a genius move as their voices combine brilliantly and it is something that Moore should explore further in the future. More Bon Jovi-esque guitars crash against the mainstream blues feel of ‘On the Rocks’ to provide a heartbreak song of true depth and quality. It’s dramatic, it’s emotional and it’s the culmination of the three song highlight run that started with ‘Ones That Didn’t Make It Back Home’, continued in ‘Why We Drink’ and finishes with dem blues. Those are the three songs that will carry this album forward over the next 18 months.
In those aforementioned songs Justin Moore has got three hits, three gems and three songs of real quality that will get him back out on big support slots and see him through the winter. ‘Late Nights and Longnecks’ is not an Old Dominion style album where there are five hit singles, there are three and then some more interesting songs and some filler. It’s a good album, but to be able to step up a level and step out of the shadow of his own cowboy hat, Moore needs to really challenge himself next time round to avoid becoming a cliché of himself or his image and to avoid being typecast forever as a B level Country artist. I fully believe he’s capable of producing greater songs of greater depth but he has to give himself permission to do that, to dig deeper and to really take the sort of leap that Dierks Bentley took between the ‘Home’ and the ‘Riser’ albums that really cemented his position in the higher echelons of Country music, something I image Justin Moore would be more than desperate to achieve.
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