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Lee Brice

I Don't Dance – 2014 (Curb)

Reviewed by Dustin Blumhagen

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CDs by Lee Brice

The cover of "I Don't Dance" features a glam shot of Lee Brice standing in a spotlight, looking more like a pop artist than a country singer. Listeners who prefer their country on the gritty side might be scared off by the pretty cover shot. The music matches the image: pop influenced mainstream country music, in the vein of contemporaries Jake Owen and Kip Moore.

The success of his sophomore release emboldened Lee Brice. His first two albums introduced the country scene to his deep baritone and soulful neo country tunes. While "I Don't Dance" includes songs that will be familiar to his fans, there are a few surprises that show an artist willing to experiment. Cellos provide some depth near the end of "Good Man," while the piano pop that kicks off "Drinkin' Class" is a surprise in light of the boring lyrics that discuss drinking at the end of a 40-hour week, as if alcoholism is completely natural. There are a couple of other bro-country missteps, such as the predictable misogynistic summer jam, "Girls in Bikinis" and "My Carolina," a rocking list song of the south that sounds like it was written for Brantley Gilbert (complete with eye roll inducing mentions of grits and red clay).

Despite the overly macho persona that dilutes some of the tracks, the heart of "I Don't Dance" is the soft side of Brice, both musically and lyrically. The title track was an obvious choice for a single, with a heartfelt message that makes it an ideal wedding song (he wrote it for his wife on their anniversary). The piano takes center stage on the soulful "Panama City," a beach song that avoids cheesy clichés and hip hop guest stars. Brice looks back wistfully on a bright spot in a relationship that ended. "That Don't Sound Like You" sounds like it was lifted from "Hard 2 Love," which is a compliment. He channels Bon Jovi on "Always the Only One," a pop rock love song with a big chorus and guitar solo. Echoes and electronic effects are used in "The Airport Song," but the experimentation works in Brice's favor, adding a little variation to the sound while lyrically covering a topic that has been beaten to death. It is refreshing to hear a counterbalance to the drinking songs, suggesting he is reaching out to both the Saturday night and Sunday morning crowds.

Brice took the freedom he earned through his previous successes and pushed his boundaries a little bit, while still focusing on the soulful sound that makes his voice recognizable.