The guy in the baseball cap is back! Cole Swindell is the sort of epitome of the American dream. His journey started with him selling merchandise for Luke Bryan for three years, writing songs whilst on the road and then eventually pitching those songs to artists like Thomas Rhett, Scotty McCreery and Florida Georgia Line. That led to a recording contract of his own and a very credible debut album featuring songs like ‘Chillin It’ and ‘I Hope You Get Lonely Tonight’ which then led to an ACM award in 2015 for new artist of the year.
‘All of It’ is Swindell’s third album and it finds the 35-year-old singer growing up and moving on. Just like the Bro-country movement that he found himself part of (alongside artists like Luke Bryan and FGL) and benefitted from, it is now time to evolve and realise that the sound and that movement has had its day. Florida Georgia Line have evolved if you listen to their new single ‘Simple’ and I’m pleased to day that Swindell has smoothed out some of his more ‘Bro-ish’ edges and produced a more varied and interesting album that still has its roots planted firmly in southern soil even if it’s ambitions are bigger, wider and more arena based. I didn’t care much for his second album, ‘You Should Be Here’, finding (title track excepted, of course!) it a little generic and a little too ‘frat-boys on the loose’ for my liking so I figured Swindell and I were probably parting ways but with ‘All of It’ he’s done gone & grown up, stepping up just when the market dictated it. This is a set of FM radio Country songs that will chill some traditionalists to the bone but for a guy like me, raised on the guitar sounds of Bon Jovi and Journey who has found his way to Nashville via artists like Keith Urban and Sugarland its manna from heaven!
Guitars have a big presence on ‘All of It’. Swindell has ‘Aldeaned’ up his bottom end and gone big on the screeching guitars on some songs and it suits him. Album opener, ‘Love You Too Late’ is a big, moody rocker of a number that contains a huge chorus and Aldean-like nods across the whole guitar spectrum. It will be awesome live and echo around those cavernous arenas perfectly. So too will ‘Sounded Good Last Night’ – this track is what Journey would sound like if they turned their hand to Country music. It’s a big, uptempo rock song about a wild night out and it’s repercussions the next day! Sonically it reminds me a little of Luke Combs’ ‘When It Rains It Pours’ and it certainly brings the same joy, with its screeching guitars and the vivid imagery painted by the lyrics. ’20 in a Chevy’ also brings the meaty bottom end and rock guitars too. This track is the most ambitious on ‘All of It’, mixing, as it does the guitar with a very modern keyboard programming sound and unusual percussive beat – this will be a marmite track for sure but for what it’s worth I think it’s a MONSTER!
‘Somebody’s Been Drinking’, another lyrically clever song, contains the best guitar solo on the album within a ‘booty call’ song that is executed with way more style and panache than you would expect from its subject content!
The lyrics on ‘All Of It’, in fact, are well worth a mention themselves. Swindell is an accomplished and clever writer but I feel like he’s really upped his game on this album. Obviously, we are not talking Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen here but as far as modern commercial Country lyricists go, Swindell is one of the best, using the melody and cadence of the words to augment his songs to great effect. ‘The Ones Who Got Me Here’ (again, reminding me a little of Luke Combs but this time with ‘This One’s For You’) is a delightful mid-tempo, piano driven ballad that may well turn out to be the sleeper radio hit of the whole album. The way Swindell uses the cadence of the lyrics in this song is excellent: simple, street poetry sort of stuff, not hi-brow at all but incredibly effective. Lines like, ‘All the faces in the bleachers, the never-give-up-on-me teachers,’ don’t read like Shakespeare in the cold light of day but within the context of the song only serve to add to the appeal.
Of course, no Cole Swindell album is without its tender moments, heartfelt lyrics and nods to Cole’s father, who passed away suddenly in 2013 just before Swindell started his recording career really. ‘Dad’s Old Number’ is perhaps the most emotional song on the album, although he didn’t write it. Another sign that Swindell has evolved and grown up a little is that he has taken songs from other artists on this album in preference to some of his own and that must take some guts and honesty. ‘Dad’s Old Number’ is a beautiful song about loss, as Swindell apologises to the person now in possession of his father’s phone number after his death. ‘Sometimes I forget these ten digits ain’t my lifeline anymore,’ he sings, laying it all out there, vulnerable and honest, in the same way he was on ‘You Should Be Here’ from his second album.
‘Her’ is also worth a mention in light of the obvious maturing of Cole Swindell. Again, clever lyrics like, ‘That girl walks into a party, looking like a million in a dress from Target,’ mix with sweet references to the things the narrator loves about the girl in the song. Swindell manages to steer, mostly, clear of clunky and out-dated references to women’s physical appearances and instead, concentrates on more meaningful reasons to be in love in a way that he wouldn’t have done a couple of years ago. The growth is there folks, in plain sight for all to see, and it suits him. That growth is no-where more in evidence than on the highlight of the album, ‘Break Up in the End’. This one easily in my ‘Top 5 Songs of the Year’ list and is a real clue as to where Swindell can go in the future as a Country artist. It’s easily the best song he has ever recorded and bears all the hallmarks of the things I’ve been highlighting are good about him in this review – clever lyrics, heartfelt delivery and an ability to pen a chorus that burrows deep down within your consciousness and won’t let go! There is a slight touch of Garth Brooks’ ‘The Dance’ about this song in the way that it deals with regrets and it is well worthy of being held up alongside such a Country classic.
The balance of ‘All of It’ is perfect for a mainstream commercial Country album. There are ballads, there are rockers and there are two good, old-fashioned honky-tonk drinking songs in the shape of ‘Reason to Drink’ and ‘Both Sides of the Mississippi’. The inclusion of these fun, light-hearted songs relieves some of the emotional tension that the ballads bring and bring a slightly different focus away from the electric guitars. These two songs will slay live and will be perfect for the arena crowds to dance, clap or pump their fists in the air to whilst trying not to spill their beer on the people next them!
With ‘All of It’ Cole Swindell has announced his arrival as a major player on the arena Country scene. He’s no longer Luke Bryan’s bag-man or Florida Georgia Line’s protégé but an artist of worth in his own right. He can write, he can sing and he can tell a tale or drop an emotional anchor as good as any Blake Shelton or Luke Bryan can. ‘All of It’ sees him stepping out of the shadows of these major Nashville artists and taking his place alongside them in terms of both ability and creativity. He’s rounded out most of his bro-Country edges now and at 35 years old has begun to produce music that seems more age appropriate. He still likes a drink and he can still party with the best of them but there are clear signs of maturity happening and it’s making his music a whole lot more interesting.