Country Superstar's Contender for #1 Finds Him Stretching Out

Luke Bryan’s Kill the Lights (Capitol Nashville)—a strong contender for #1 on next week’s chart—gives his fans plenty of the radio-ready, feel-good jams his fans expect, with a handful of songs that demonstrate his readiness to stretch out musically. Bryan co-wrote six songs on the album, which was produced by Jeff and Jody Stevens.

He comes out of the box, though, with two out-and-out party jams.

Lead single “Kick the Dust Up,” a Country radio #1 and iTunes monster, has a wide-open rock hook that yields to a banjo riff that apes a hip-hop sample. “We turned this corn field into a party,” Bryan sings.

Next comes the seductive title track, also making waves at radio, which merges urgent, ’80s-inflected pop-rock with a funk-inspired groove. It’s another striking example of how today’s top-selling country artists are drawing from pretty much every genre.

“Strip It Down” is a piano-driven ballad with an R&B groove, and demonstrates Bryan’s singular skill with intimate vocals.

There’s more sexed-up, highly rhythmic material, notably “Move,” that keeps the cornfield party going. But for me some of the album’s finest moments are the more reflective ones, particularly “Just Over,” one of those finely crafted Nashville compositions that captures the dawning pain of heartbreak perfectly.

I was also struck by “Fast,” a song that laments the accelerating passage of time—it’s the theory of relativity, Country-style, where “60 seconds feels more like 30” and “we’re trying to make the good times last.” For an artist who’s built his fame, to a fair degree, on the lure of momentary pleasure, it’s heartening to see Bryan grappling with such matters.

Another standout is the infectious duet “Home Alone Tonight” featuring guest Karen Fairchild; the strong, minimal melody of “Razor Blade,” meanwhile, cuts as efficiently as its title.

Still, the song I can’t get out of my head is the ebullient “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day,” a Southern rock delight that starts out mellow and kicks up a joyous racket. With pastoral banjos laying down a bed and cranked-up guitar squalling, the track conjures that Marshall Tucker magic in a way that a classic-rock fanatic like me just can’t resist. “Black coffee in the morning/Dark whiskey in the evening,” sings Bryan. I’m so there.

So with Kill the Lights, the party continues—but the joy seems more grounded than ever in the here and now.