Jason Aldean takes few risks hopping ‘Night Train’

Houston ChronicleNovember 16, 2012 

Artist: Jason Aldean

Album: “Night Train”

Label: Broken Bow

Much has been made of Jason Aldean’s penchant for musical ”risk-taking” within the confines of mainstream country music. He’s a rocker! He likes to rap! He doesn’t do fiddles!

All true, to an extent, on fifth studio album “Night Train.” It’s solidly produced and will likely take his tally of No. 1 hits into the double digits. (Current single “Take a Little Ride” is his eighth to date.) But as much as people talk about boundary-pushing in the absence of traditional sounds and (honestly terrible) fusion with hip hop, too much of the album sounds generic and sterilized for radio. Nothing here pops out, at least for the right reasons

“Night Train” follows 2010’s “My Kinda Party,” which has sold almost 3 million copies and paired Aldean with Kelly Clarkson and Ludacris. Aldean can be a dynamic performer, and he’s best when working a rugged outlaw vibe.

The problem, quite simply, is that Aldean is better than most of the material here. Some of the songs have the sting of real life in the wake of his recent make-out session with “American Idol” reject and NBA dancer Brittany Kerr. But too many of these songs run together — not good, not bad, just there.

There’s a heavy dose of standard power balladry, including “Feel That Again” and “Talk.” Better are “I Don’t Do Lonely Well” and the title track, which evoke a sense of wistful nostalgia. Aldean’s emotive delivery also helps in that he never pours over into sap (always a danger with modern country music).

The success of Aldean’s “Dirt Road Anthem” means more country-rap, for better or (much) worse. (Blame Luda!) He teams up with fellow heartthrobs Luke Bryan and Eric Church for “The Only Way I Know,” which isn’t going to strike fear in the heart of any Wu-Tang Clan member. “1994” is a tribute to Joe Diffie, an Oklahoma singer who had his biggest successes in the early ’90s. But because these aren’t true hip-hop anthems, they lack grit, urgency and begin to recycle the same sound. MC Skat Kat casts a more dangerous shadow.

“Black Tears” is supposed to be the album’s important song, a cautionary tale about the life of a stripper. (”The wrong kind of famous in her mama’s eyes.”) But it lacks the kind of detailed, nuanced writing that would truly make it effective and — much like this “Train” itself — doesn’t end up going anywhere.

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