It’s sometimes difficult to remember that Scotty McCreery is still only 24 years old. Possessing such a rich, deep voice and a love of all things slightly more traditional it feels like he should be much older than he is! McCreery burst onto the Nashville scene in 2011 after winning season 10 of ‘American Idol’. The release of his debut album saw a number of accolades coming his way and he became the youngest man and first country music artist in history to have his first album debut atop the all-genre Billboard Top 200 albums chart.
A sophomore release, ‘See You Tonight’, followed in 2013. This saw McCreery co-write five songs and it also topped the Billboard Country charts but change was in the air. In 2015 McCreery released what was going to be the first single from his third project, ‘Southern Belle’ and then promptly disappeared. 2015 was probably peak Bro-Country year with the charts awash with stories of trucks, short shorts and parties and McCreery’s tasteful, nuanced, more traditional stylings didn’t really seem to fit. He eventually left his record label and took time away from the business to write and reflect on what must have been a crazy few years. Legal issues with the both the record company and American Idol prevented him from releasing music until last year when something amazing happened.
Back in 2015, mired within the sea-change that swept through Country music like a redneck hurricane, McCreery pitched a song, written in the aftermath of his grandfather’s death called ‘Five More Minutes’. Mercury Nashville said, ‘Thanks but no thanks,’ and insisted on the release of ‘Southern Belle’. So McCreery sat on the song for two years before deciding to release it independently in 2017. Imagine the confidence that you must have in a recording, to sit on it for two years and then release it independently, with no label backing, no radio promo, nothing! The song began to gain traction, which lead to McCreery signing with Nashville label Thirty Tigers and forty weeks later the song became a bona fide number one! The first time in Nashville history that an independent song has topped the Country charts. Fast forward a few short months and he has an album, ‘Seasons Change’ wrapped and ready to go.
What is clear from the very first listen to ‘Seasons Change’ is this is McCreery’s most personal album to date. His song-writing craft has benefitted from a few years away from Music Row and he has gone from being a good singer of well-crafted but ambiguous songs to being a fine singer of deep, meaningful songs. Country music has been through two shift changes since McCreery’s last release in 2013, first came Bro-Country and now we are seeing the influence of pop, hip-hop and R&B across many of the newer acts out there. As people like Walker Hayes and Devin Dawson take Country in weird and wonderful directions the genre still needs people like Scotty McCreery to remind them of its roots and traditions, and it is clear, with the success of ‘Five More Minutes’, that there is still a demand out there for personal, heartfelt, guitar driven Country music.
‘Seasons Change’ opens with the title track and one of the most personal lines on the album. You can hear rainfall but that slowly gives way to a funky guitar sound. Symbolic or what? In the chorus McCreery sings, It’s been a long time comin’, it’s a brand new me and a brand new day.’ You can’t get more explicit than that! Equipped with big drums, big chords and a big sing-a-long chorus, ‘Seasons Change’ is everything you would want as a come-back mission statement from such a talented performer.
The album is chock full of personal statements. ‘Boys from Back Home’ is another up-tempo, guitar driven song, reminiscent of ‘Up All Night’ era Kip Moore in which he tells the story of his friendships with said boys. ‘In Between’, in which McCreery reveals that he is a, ‘little bit of big city concrete but a lot more small time dirt,’ is another – great to listen to, full of positive vibes and an anthemic chorus that just won’t quit.
The two big ballads on ‘Seasons Change’ are both personal tales too. ‘Five More Minutes’, the record breaking chart-topper, is a wonderful look at human nature whilst ‘This is It’, a ballad that McCreery wrote to celebrate his impending summer marriage, is a real ‘lighters-in-the-air song that really reveals so much about him as a singer and as a person. McCreery has gone from being a country singer to being a country storyteller. They say good Country music is borne out of pain and adversity and at 24 years old, McCreery has certainly had his fair share of that, professionally, and it has had him a better musician because of it.
There are two very original, un-McCreery like songs on ‘Seasons Change’ that serve to further emphasize just how much he has evolved. ‘Wrong Again’ is a dirty, funky little number dressed up in a Maroon 5 package, but again, rather than fill the groove with ambiguous or meaningless lyrics, McCreery tells the story of how his relationship kept moving from level to level with his fiancé whilst he kept waiting for things to ‘go south’, leaving him continually, ‘wrong again.’ This one will be a big live song and may well even have a lifespan on radio should his team decide they want to present this side of him to the public. The other surprise moment on the album comes on ‘Barefootin’, which is a beach song in the style of something that Jake Owen might record. It comes replete with a horn section and a Jake Owen / Chris Young style vocal delivery that is smoooooooooooooooth, man. It’s a cracking song about dancing in the sand that again, could be a big summer radio song although for us UK fans there is a line in the chorus where McCreery asks the girl if she would like to go ‘shagging in the sand’ that has completely different connotations over here than it does in the USA!!
The album finishes on a quieter note with two mid-tempo, Tim McGraw style tracks, ‘Still’ and ‘Home in My Mind’. ‘Still’ particularly is a nuanced ballad with some lovely moments in it whilst McCreery chooses ‘Home in My Mind’ to finish things off, a song about life on the road and the difficulties that brings to a travelling musician. It’s a rather apt song to finish with because if all goes well around the release of this album, McCreery is destined to spend most of this year and a good chunk of next back out on the road as this album takes off, re-connecting him with the fans that he thought he had lost whilst finding him a whole new fan base, tired of the insidious nature of modern Country music with its hip-hop beats and electronic programming.
The success of ‘Five More Minutes’ is a clear indicator that, despite the record labels attempting to move the commercial heart of Country music away from the traditional Nashville sound and into the world of pop there is still a big market and a big demand for heartfelt, traditionally structured, guitar driven Country music. If he plays his cards right and is marketed correctly, Scotty McCreery, at just 24 years old, could become the poster boy for that movement. He’s drawn a line in the sand with certain sections of the Nashville machine and is proudly standing there with his guitar and his nuanced, thoughtful music, arms folded, saying, ‘Come at me Bro!’
Twitter – @rockjames