After going Gold with his 2009 breakthrough album Doin’ My Thing, and taking home the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Solo Vocalist prize in 2010, Luke Bryan returns with his third full-length studio album, Tailgates & Tanlines. Featuring a mix of uptempo party songs, loose country rockers and compelling storylines along the way, the 35-year-old Georgia native displays impressive depth, moving from frat boy fun into deeper territory over the diverse collection.
Reuniting with producer Jeff Stevens for the third time, Tailgates & Tanlines is front-loaded with fun, whimsical songs that sound like the soundtrack from a party weekend in Panama City Beach. “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” the album’s opening track and lead single, kicks up the tempo with a pounding bass drum and descending chord progression. Crisply produced electric guitars and banjo run underneath the chorus’ quick recitation, as Luke makes it clear that if it’s breathing, well then it’s most certainly checking out the hot muse’s moves with the lines like, Shake it for the birds, shake it for the bees/ Shake it for the catfish swimming down deep in the creek.
Big ringing guitars open “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” with pedal steel swimming throughout the reflective hook. Luke’s warm southern drawl sounds at ease moving through the admitting chorus, Ain’t gonna beg you to stay, ain’t gotta ask you what’s wrong/Ain’t no reason running after something already gone. Here, as well as in others like the midtempo summer party song “Drunk On You,” there’s an essence of living in the now, not worrying about the future and fondly remembering those wild nights.
As the album moves on, it becomes more reflective. One of the collection’s strongest songs is “You Don’t Know Jack,” a traditional-leaning piece featuring acoustic guitars and tasteful mandolin textures. The song is a sad, honest exploration of the destructiveness of alcoholism. If you think it’s just a bottle in an old brown paper sack/ You don’t know jack, the song’s homeless subject says while describing his dependency on liquor, how it ruined his marriage and how he’s now still dependent upon it to cope with the rubble of his life. The album’s closing song, “I Knew You That Way,” (written by Jay Clementi and Radney Foster) is an acoustic-based ballad with strikingly poetic lyrics such as, the way that thunder knows the taste of summer rain/ I knew you that way. Lyrically, this song is different from the others in its strong use of metaphor, but Luke sounds confident taking on a new approach while singing heartfelt and evocative lines like, the way cool mountain waters dance down to the sea/ bound by something strong but still so wild and free.
Luke co-wrote eight of the album’s 11 songs, calling in big names such as Dallas Davidson and Shane McAnally. The result is a collection that features heavy country rockers including the swampy “Muckalee Creek Water” (co-written with Patrick Jason Matthews) next to pop-leaning songs like “Been There, Done That” (co-written with Rachel Thibodeau). However, with such diversity and subjects ranging from those warm summer nights in college to more serious matters like addiction, Luke’s voice and perspective shines through on Tailgates & Tanlines to tie the collection together and bring new growth to his work.