Jerrod Niemann gained a ton of fans with his quirky, non-traditional take of obscure pop/alternative "Lover Lover." That song was just the tip of the artistic iceberg for the Kansas native as he came out with "What Do You Want" and "One More Drinking Song," singles from Judge Jerrod and the & The Hung Jury which showcased the elastic vocal chameleon that Jerrod is with his music. He literally can sing multiple styles and moods of country music. It is with this in mind that I approached Free The Music, Jerrod's sophomore release for Sea Gayle/Arista Nashville.
Once again working with friend Dave Brainard and his road band The Hung Jury, Jerrod Niemann's take on country music is one that is inclusive of the past hallmarks like fiddle and steel guitars but he also has incorporated a true brass section of horns to the mix, a sound that actually was in country music before it was even called country music ("Ragtime" "rural music,"). The title track - one of three solo songs from Jerrod - serves as Jerrod's thesis for the whole album as this song's sonic style is modern, classic and forward-thinking all in one song. It lets fans know what they have in store for the rest of the record.
"Whiskey Kinda Way" and "I'll Have To Kill The Pain" are very traditional sounding with "Whiskey Kind of Way" showcasing the traditional balladeer style that is a huge part of Jerrod's musical DNA as are the drinkin' songs that are like "I'll Have To Kill The Pain." Both could be potential radio singles but the latter one might do better with contemporary country radio. Speaking of contemporary, "Only God Could Love You More," a song Jerrod co-wrote with Lee Brice and Jon Stone, has a downright passionate and crazy good vocal that is a passionate plea to his girl as she walks out the door in search of something better that "only God could love you more than I do."
"Shinin' On Me" is the lead hit single and now that it's Top 20, Jerrod's starting to see the very good horn-drenched single move up the digital singles charts, as well it should as it's a great representative of the record. "Honky Tonk Fever" finds Jerrod digging into his personal well of life as he tells a story of his own life and dreams to be a country music star. Musically "Honky Tonk Fever" mixes rag time with Floyd Cramer-like pianos and it all serves well to again remind fans that you can incorporate the past into your music and still have it come out wholly your own.
"Guessing Games" has another interesting melody with guitars and horns which accentuate a percussive melody which slightly recalls Bill Withers' "Use Me" and it all works with the sultry R&B feel of the lyric (Written with J.R. McCoy). The song is a lyrically sharp story about a girl who thinks she can keep stringing a guy along with her mood swings and lack of things she says. "It Won't Matter Anymore" is another lyrically strong song with a melody that harkens back to "King of The Road" without ever feeling like it's anything but a strong addition to country music.
The song "I'm All About You" is a piano-driven torch ballad that will get a lot of buzz for featuring Colbie Caillat on harmony vocals. The melody - once again - incorporates sounds that feel classic (a little Burt Bacharach here, a little Beatles there) without ever feeling like a copycat. Instead it feels organic and just very good. "Real Women Drink Beer" has a title that could offend people but once you listen to it, it's like Toby Keith's song about women who drink beer, they're just the type of girls that they like. Melodically, "Real Women Drink Beer" mixes traditional country sounds of Dwight Yoakam and Buck Owens with the horns of classic earlier country music of the 20s. It's another case of Jerrod showcasing his ability on and knowledge of traditional-leaning country music.
And that's really what he's all about, letting the music guide him. In essence, Free The Music, let the music take you on a trip to where it needs to go. Also, Free The Music is a complete work from start to finish (something echoed by the dixieland sound which closes out the record much in the way it starts the record. I'm sure there'll be people who don't 'get' the music or think Jerrod's outta his mind but if they'd get past their own bias about what something should be and just listen to Free The Music for what it IS well, they will hear something worth our time, a complete album with well-written songs which just aren't ditties aiming for mainstream radio airplay (though that's certainly welcomed too).