Luke Bryan – Tailgates & Tanlines

With the release of “Tailgates & Tanlines,” Luke Bryan seems set to continue his forward momentum from mid-level country star to top-tier superstar status, taking an approach not unlike Kenny Chesney did 15 years ago.

A few songs on Luke Bryan’s new album find the singer reaching (desperately?) beyond the stylistic sphere of the typical country music audience member. One notable tune, of course, is the single “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” which is an out-and-out dance song, country style. Bryan even performed it at the CMA Awards accompanied by sexy girls worthy of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Then on “Drunk On You,” Bryan sings about music that makes his speakers go boom-boom. I’m not 100% certain, but I don’t think Hank done it that way.

Mixed in with this album’s more questionable selections are a few drop-dead gorgeous country songs, as well. One of these is “You Don’t Know Jack.” The song title’s meaning is twofold: On the one hand, it’s a reference to a man’s struggle with the whiskey bottle – in this case, Jack Daniels. Furthermore, in a much deeper sense, the lyric talks about how those of us with good jobs, stable homes and, well, lives, just don’t know the first thing about what it means to be homeless. We don’t ‘get’ what it feels like to have “lost it all,” as the song lyric says. This homeless guy reminds no one in particular to count their blessings, because they (we?) just don’t know how difficult it is to hit the skids. We don’t know Jack, indeed.

Another fine song, “Too Damn Young” tells the story of a couple that falls in love young. At first glance, the song’s title suggests something horrible, such as date rape. However, the lyric explains that these two young lovers were “too damn young to know any better” when they first got together, which is socially acceptable.

“I Knew You That Way” is a wonderful song from the pens of Jay Clementi and Radney Foster. It’s a sad lyric about intimacy, more specifically intimacy lost. Sadly, the only thing that time can’t take away from this pitiful man was the special way he loved a girl. The song does more than just cry in its beer over the loss of a lover, and it’s more than just about the loss of a special person. It also concerns the accumulation of wasted memories. These memories should have remained alive and precious, shared between two passionate lovers, instead of tragically dying on the vine.

It sometimes seems as though Bryan wants to have things two widely different ways, the way Kenny Chesney now has it. Chesney walks that fine line between being a hearty, party animal one moment, and a guy that can sing a break-your-heart song, the next. To his credit, Chesney doesn’t sing songs as dumb as “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” anymore. Let’s hope his ‘she thinks my tractor’s sexy’ days are behind him for good. Perhaps Bryan is aiming to be the hunk with a heart, and not just the good-looker that parties hard. We’ll see.

Bryan contributed to writing the majority of these songs, so he can take all the credit and/or blame for its direction. Nevertheless, this disc’s two best songs, “I Knew You That Way” and “You Don’t Know Jack,” were ones he had no hand at all in writing. Therefore, he still has a ways to go before he reaches the next level.

Luke Bryan is at a crossroads in his career. Whether he becomes a dumb hunk or a smart – but good looking – cookie, is entirely up to him.

1 Comment

  • Linda Tiner

    It is now 2015 and Luke has made it BIG TIME! I think you missed the boat on this one. When you state the two biggest songs were not touched by him, well…..I disagree. Without his beautiful voice and emotional ties to the lyrics, to me , would be just another nice song. I think there are many corners to Luke BRYAN’S circle.