"Like a lot of people my age, I didn't necessarily grow up listening to country music...I grew up living it." It's a little unsettling thought from the 24-year old Morgan Wallen. You wouldn't want to hear from your doctor that they substituted book learning for feel. But music may well be different, and Wallen does have some legitimate country cred - he hails not far from the Tennessee Cumberland Gap and went to Kenny Chesney's high school (What an alumni party that would be!). Wallen flamed out early on season 6 of "The Voice." Maybe Usher wasn't the ideal coach for his style, and that year's winner isn't exactly a household name yet either.
Wallen's "voice" isn't really his secret weapon - it's his pen. He's already co-written a number of successful tunes for others like Jason Aldean and A Thousand Horses. On this debut LP, he contributes to about half of the songwriting. There's lots of other talent in the production and playing to help maximize success. With Florida Georgia Line, for example, the lead single "Up Down" cracked the Top Ten. It's a fun party song that has a surprising durability - repeated plays don't seem to wear it out. The best track to match that sure-thing is "Whatcha Know About That." It lifts the chords/refrain from "Fishin' in the Dark" atop a rhythm sample that's somewhere between a washboard and the cocking of a rifle. While country in spirit and lyric, there's a hip-hop bounce that shows off Wallen's generational fixations.
Nothing on the record is built for slow-dancing. Even when Wallen is down, he's "knockin' 'em down," like on "Whiskey Glasses" and "Happy Hour" (It should be stressed this music is not suitable for AA meetings). If you go in looking for a good time, you won't be disappointed by this well-crafted modern country pop. The fairly-experienced newcomer Wallen has done a worthy job of representing his age, roots ("Talking Tennessee," "The Way I Talk") and hedonistic attitude. Fire up the BBQ, pop a cold one and crank this one for the neighbors.