Morgan Wallen, "Dangerous: The Double Album" (Big Loud)
Whiskey. Bourbon. Beer. Tequila. Pickup trucks. Bars with jukeboxes. Boots. A small-town Southern drawl. And a lot of girls: in bars, in trucks, in boots and very fond of a drawl. Wallen, born and raised in Sneedville in eastern Tennessee, determinedly checks off backcountry bona fides in nearly all 30 songs on his second album.
Wallen's small town is an idyllic fantasy, an escape to a rural Neverland. The 27-year-old reaffirms his priorities in the album's first single, "More Than My Hometown," in which he chooses residence over romance.
In real life, Wallen has grappled with temptations beyond small-town life. He was arrested and charged with public intoxication and disorderly conduct in downtown Nashville. The incident inspired the song "Dangerous," in which he warns himself he is better off not going out.
His music doesn't come from some rural front porch. It is a modern Nashville studio product, aimed for radio playlists and, eventually, big concert spaces. Wallen's voice is as much rock as country, arriving with a grunge rasp.
There is ample room for variety on "Dangerous." Wallen offers fingerpicking and soft-rock country with "Somebody's Problem" and "7 Summers," intricately layered Eagles-style country-rock with "More Surprised Than Me" and "Your Bartender," a Southern-rock stomp with "Beer Don't." He also ventures, now and then, into more electronic territory like "Warning."
For nearly the entire album, Wallen stays strictly in character as a hard-drinking, tenderhearted small-town guy. A stretch of songs during the album's second half, with titles like "Rednecks, Red Letters, Red Dirt," grows heavy-handed. But every so often, he allows for other possibilities. He remakes Jason Isbell's song "Cover Me Up" into a video about a veteran's post-traumatic stress. And just before the album ends, he sings "Livin' the Dream," a bitter debunking of pop success. For a few minutes, it seems he's unmasked in a different way.
Jon Pareles, New York Times
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• Carm, "Carm"
• Lee Rocker, "Gather Round"
• Willie Jones, "Right Now"