Luke Bryan, "Crash My Party" (Capitol Nashville)
If Bryan were a baseball player instead of the next big country superstar, he'd be a prized leadoff hitter with a great on-base percentage.
On "Crash My Party," Bryan never hits a home run, but he sure does connect a lot. Yes, he's a singles hitter — in more ways than one.
Bryan has an easygoing, likable vocal style. And he's at his best when he doesn't push too hard. "Crash My Party's" title track shows off his natural charm and his ability to sell memorable lines such as "This is a drop-everything kind of thing." "Roller Coaster" shows his sweet spot — part Kenny Chesney and part Matchbox Twenty — telling a country-leaning story with a pop-leaning hook that sticks with you long after the song ends. "Drink a Beer" feels equally effortless, the acoustic guitar and sweet harmonies helping convey a feeling of loss as well as the comfort that comes with acceptance and familiar things. It's the sequel, lyrically and stylistically, to Tim McGraw's "Live Like You Were Dying" and should follow in that song's footsteps right up the country charts.
Where Bryan runs into trouble is when he stretches too far. He struggles with the tempo changes and the rocker vibe of "I See You," while "That's My Kind of Night" is overstuffed with lyrics and musical ideas that never quite fit together. Bryan should take it as a sign that the one time he seems to swing for the fences, he flashily strikes out.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Buddy Guy, "Rhythm & Blues" (RCA)
On "I Go by Feel," Guy uses the title phrase to explain, among other things, his approach to playing the blues. But even the greats, like Guy, can use help along the way in melding inspiration with craft and enhancing the artist's gifts. And Guy gets that from producer-drummer-writer Tom Hambridge.
The result is a focused, hard-hitting two-CD set of 21 tracks that clocks in at just over 80 minutes total. The 77-year-old Guy gets plenty of chances to flash his prodigious guitar chops, but he does so in the context of taut, well-structured songs that don't stint on feel as they range from driving straight blues to swaggering roadhouse R&B and ballads brooding and soul-tinged.
Guests are on hand, including Kid Rock, Keith Urban and Steven Tyler, but they just complement the main attraction, whom Hambridge supplies with songs that at times resonate with references to the singer's own life. And with "Meet Me in Chicago," there is also a welcome alternative to the well-worn Windy City anthem "Sweet Home Chicago."
Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer