If what you are looking for is a solid rock-soaked, modern country album, Canaan Smith charges forward into the mainstream with a romantic-strewn and rather charming debut full player, with his Bronco. He slings the mud of love and good times with 11 songs that all stand at less than four minutes; most clock in at a meager three, allowing the album to soar through the air so fast ‘n furious that you have to pay extra attention to catch the album’s overall arc. Smith throws the gasoline on the fire—sitting comfortably on the fence of Eric Church musicality (“American Muscle” a particularly complex barn-burner) and Luke Bryan wooing (“Love You Like That,” “Mad Love,” and the slinky, hip-hop-centric “Two Lane Road”). Smith doesn’t let his often buttery vocal get lost in the production either; his smokey tenor wafts high above the instruments, energizing the songs with a cool and commanding drip (“Love at First” and “One of Those” are his most resounding recordings).
“Good Kinda Bad” and “Stompin’ Grounds” are yearning shots of Florida Georgia Line whiskey. Thematically, many of the album’s rungs have been done countless times before by many of the format’s superstars, but there’s something endearing about Smith’s portrayal of his own experiences. His scruffy, blue-collar style (“I’ve got holes in my jeans,” he sings on the honky-tonk ditty “Hole in a Bottle”) is a bit rough around the edges, but he sings with such a sweeping allure, there’s nothing you can do but swoon and let him do what he does best. “Stuck,” too, is a magical stretch of nostalgic escapism, as he reminisces about a former flame long burnt out. The past is in the past; he cherishes each moment without letting regret overcome his emotions.
Smith‘s debut isn’t devoid of rooted story songs, fortunately, for which country music has become known. The title track is, perhaps, his finest entry here—culminating an album that (at times) is saccharine and fluffy on the ears. “Bronco,” though, is piercing and raw, much like Lee Brice’s own “I Drive Your Truck.” The pain in Smith’s voice is palpable, misting in the air like an overnight fog. It lingers and bubbles up in a rather haunting, guitar-laced arrangement. The music elevates his voice even higher into the heavens and blows across the barren desert. His nuanced delivery, too, allows the lyrics to breathe: there’s never a moment when you don’t believe him and his pain. If there ever were a song to break down barriers (ballads are a tougher sell at terrestrial radio, though), it would be “Bronco.”
Must-Listen Tracks: “Stuck,” “Hole in a Bottle,” “Mad Love,” “Bronco”
Image Source: UMG