With a somewhat thin voice that seemingly was best suited on rockin' songs, Jason Aldean certainly has been able carved out for himself in contemporary country music. I’ve long held to the notion that there was a place in the genre for a guy unafraid to relentlessly release up-tempo, rock-leaning songs that pay homage to AC/DC more than Hank Williams or bluegrass and After Big & Rich filled that spot for about a year, Jason Aldean took their place and ran with it. What’s funny about all of this is that Aldean released four John Rich-penned singles to start his career and his first two, “Hicktown” and “Amarillo Sky” were Big&Rich co-writes. So in effect, Aldean contributed to that band’s so-so chart performance by recording and releasing songs written by the very same guys.
With his last three singles being written by other songwriters, Jason Aldean has distanced himself from the B&R canon without really dropping the Country Rock. For example, Aldean’s lead single for his third album Wide Open is “She’s Country,” a song which mixes metal guitar licks (think Zakk Wylde) with Country lyrics. If people didn’t know this song was written by Danny Myrick (the former lead singer of 90s country act Western Flyer) and Bridgette Tatum, they might suspect that it was, indeed, another J.R. song. Aldean, knowing his niche, is more than willing to record another rabid rocker in the form of “Crazy Town,” a song with silly lyrics but something converted hair band fans will rawk out to. The odd thing about the rest of the album is how much “Wide Open” isn’t like Aldean’s first two albums. It has up-tempo tracks but none of them ever feel like fake poseur rockers the way that “She’s Country” and other singles have.
So while Aldean has taken the Country rocker mantle from Big & Rich, he seems to want to leave most of the poseur stuff to guys like Chris Cagle. Jason’s more content to sing mid tempos like “This I Gotta See,” previously recorded by Andy Griggs, and moody, melodic ballads like “On My Highway” and “Fast.” These songs find Aldean firmly in a groove that somewhat recalls some of Tracy Lawrence’s early albums. The songs are thoroughly contemporary but what makes the album work is Aldean’s conviction singing believable lyrics (save for those two rockin’ tracks) and the steady production that has more than a banjo or twangy guitar solos in the mix to remind folks they’re listening to a country record.
The strongest ballads on the album are the previously mentioned “On My Highway,” which finds Aldean singing a lyric that uses the highway metaphor to remind people to live life to the fullest and on your own terms, “The Truth,” a track that recalls Brice Long’s “Anywhere But Here” and “Don’t Give Up On Me.” In the end, “Wide Open” feels like an album that could find Jason Aldean moving from support status to full-fledged headliner as “Wide Open” is one of mainstream country’s better releases so far this year.