In summer 2010, then 16-year-old Scotty McCreery started turning heads when he entered and won the local “Clayton Idol” singing competition at the Clayton, N.C. Harvest Festival. Within a year’s time, Scotty was standing onstage next to Ryan Seacrest, in front of millions of television viewers, when he heard his name announced as the season ten winner of the pop culture phenomenon American Idol. What has changed since taking the stage in Clayton are things like tour schedules, being recognized in public and signing a major label record deal. What hasn’t changed are the thoughts, feelings and voice of a 17-year-old country singer from Garner, N.C.
Like a lot of the artists he covered on American Idol, such as George Strait and Alan Jackson, Scotty’s debut album, Clear As Day, strikes a strong neo-traditionalist stance. Producer Mark Bright’s work lives up to his surname with a sound that is crisp and polished, yet rooted in traditional country. Songs like Scotty’s first single and coronation piece from the American Idol finale, “I Love You This Big,” draw on shiny acoustic guitars, thick electric Telecaster guitar tones and sweeping pedal steel. Scotty’s deep vocal sounds somewhere between Dierks Bentley and Josh Turner as he sings, I’ll spend the rest of my life explaining what words could not describe but I’ll try, after a nod admitting his youth and relative inexperience with love.
Many of the songs on Clear As Day embrace Scotty’s youth. Opening track “Out Of Summertime” features shuffling percussion, mandolin and a quick hook as lyrics flow with reflection on young love. On “Walk In the Country,” sharp acoustic guitars support Scotty’s rolling vocals as he (ironically?) sings, I’m so sick of all them TV shows, I need some dirt road under my feet, with conviction. “Write My Name On Your Hand,” one of the album’s biggest highlights, vividly captures the innocence of teenage love. After tales of rope swings, rivers and sharing Coca-Colas, Scotty sings comfortably with a bit of soul, Did you say you’re only here for a couple of days?/ Well, alright, we ain’t got much time to waste.
Slower songs like the acoustic based “Dirty Dishes” and “Back On The Ground” focus on the importance of family. The latter features thoughtful piano lines as Scotty sings with a veteran ease in the chorus, Ain’t it funny how it all comes back around?/ I remember when I couldn’t wait to get out of her hair and ditch this town. The title track, “Clear As Day,” tackles the heaviest subject matter on the album. After lyrical guitar runs and sexy lines like, You backed my back against those cedar clapboards/ My lips ain’t never been kissed that way, the story takes a somber turn when his girlfriend gets in a car with her drunk brother.
After the glitz and celebrity that comes along with winning America’s number one television singing competition, Scotty makes a statement on Clear As Day that his sound will remain true to his inspiration. Even on tracks like the new single and pop-leaning “The Trouble With Girls,” the production pulls heavily from classic Nashville Sound. Roots are important to Scotty, and though the stage at the “Clayton Idol” singing competition must sometimes feel far away, Scotty’s vision as an artist remains unchanged.