Coming into American Idol’s eighth season (2009), Danny Gokey was basically a blank-slate. While he had been a youth pastor who occasionally sang in church, he didn’t really have any secular genre that felt like ‘home.’ From the moment that I heard him sing on Idol, I knew there were only two places for his talent to go after he finished his tenure on the talent contest. Danny could choose to return to his gospel roots and record a Christian record or he could go the secular route and sign a record deal with a country music label. After finishing third behind Kris Allen and Adam Lambert, Danny Gokey chose to go the secular route and quickly secured a recording deal with 19 Entertainment’s partner Sony Music.
Recording under the RCA imprint, Danny actually has chosen to record songs that straddle the CCM and country lines and while many of the songs have tasty melodies, it is the lyrics that draw the listener in. While the CCM-ish production from Mark Bright might be a cause for concern among traditionalist or even country-pop fans, it’s not as if this is unexpected from the widower who was inspired to try out for Idol as a tribute to his departed wife Sohpia. The record kicks off with the optimistic “My Best Days Are Ahead Of Me,” the song from which My Best Days obviously comes from. The single, which is in the lower 30s on the chart the week of the album’s release, might be the perfect bridge into Danny’s version of country music as he sings lyrics about being ‘old enough to look back on past mistakes, young enough to still follow dreams,’ and wise enough that even though things may have gone the wrong way in the past, that his best days are still in front of him and not behind him. It’s an optimistic viewpoint and one that aligns nicely with Gokey’s proclaimed ‘positive message’ music mantra. Kara DioGuardi co-wrote “I Still Believe” with songwriter Busbee and it seems as if it were written explicitly for Gokey himself as it finds Gokey singing about his belief in God despite all some evidence to the contrary. Even if not released to mainstream country radio, the soulful crooner might find himself with a CCM or inspirational country chart hit, something that can also be said about the nice spiritual track from Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood and top songwriter Tom Douglas, “It’s Only.”
While primarily a mid-tempo contemporary country music affair, there are a couple of tracks on the record where Danny Gokey’s pliable voice is able to soar and one of those is the funky Billy Simon, Jimmy Lee Sloas and Ron Hemby co-write. “Get Away.” It’s a bluesy track about a man who is finally at his wits end so he decides that he’s gotta get away from what is causing him to be in a rut. Another song that fits the up-tempo mantra from Gokey is “Like It’s A Bad Thing.” While the lyrics might be a little ‘cliché filled,’ the songs melody perfectly accentuates the song. “Crazy On Ya” is another ‘tempo’ song that helps guide the album along.
There are a couple of songs that feel like they’re the touchstones of the album (outside the title track) and they are the Jeffrey Steele and Marv Green co-write “Tiny Life,” and the final two tracks on the album, “Be Somebody” and “I Will Not Say Goodbye.” The first song recalls the pace of “What Hurts The Most” lyrically with a relaxed melody that seems to get better and better with each successive listen. There’s a nice guitar solo (by Tom Bukovac) on the track while “Be Somebody” comes from bluesy country artist Joanna Cotten, Texas artist Adam Hood and hit songwriter Greg Barnhill. The song is a funky, bluesy slice of uptempo country pop (a banjo guides the way) but the lyrics really do tell a story about the nature of humans to want to be ‘somebody.’ The last track on the album is also the most obvious song that references the loss of Danny Gokey’s wife. Lari White, Chuck Cannon and Vicky McGeehee co-wrote the song and it also is the most ‘passionate’ sounding track on the record.
In the end what every artist’s career comes down to is the strength of the songs they sing. They not only have to believe the songs they are singing but it also helps to have somewhat lived them. On My Best Days it sure feels like Danny Gokey has gotten himself a strong set of songs that find him in strong voice. Yes, this record straddles the line between CCM and Contemporary country music but that doesn’t make it a bad record. In fact, it’s what makes My Best Days a good record and the exact record I expected him to make after watching him do so well on American Idol.