There’s an interesting trend when established hard rock artists crossover to country; the sound can be very traditional. Kid Rock has shown this several times over the past decade, but his impact in the genre started on the ’70s country, outlaw-inspired megahit, “Picture,” a duet with Sheryl Crow. Aaron Lewis, frontman of the platinum-selling rock band Staind, follows a similar path on his first full-length country project, The Road, a collection of 10 traditional-based tunes rich with storytelling, ¾-time and twanging guitars.
Aaron first made moves in country music with the release of his 2011 EP, Town Line, featuring the hit “Country Boy” that included guest spots from Charlie Daniels, George Jones and Chris Young. Backed by some of Nashville’s finest session players, Aaron returns with The Road, which is available now. Guitarist Brent Mason, drummer Eddie Bayers and pedal steel player Paul Franklin lead a band that moves effortlessly between Waylon-esque thump (on the title-track “The Road”) and the pure acoustic beauty of Union Station (“Lessons Learned”) while Aaron’s emotional delivery gives life and feeling to the stories in his songs.
Drawing on troubadour themes, The Road spends some serious time contemplating the touring life and what it does to him and his family. The album opener, “75,” cranks up with classic country guitar phrasing and thick telecaster tones while Aaron laments, This highway ain’t no place for home loving drifters like me, with ¾-time balladry, dropping low into the end of a line with a natural highwayman feel. “State Lines” hints at a modern version Jerry Reed’s road warrior anthem, “Eastbound and Down,” if backed by Waylon’s band. And on the current single, “Forever,” a weary road tune held together by a reflective pedal steel melody, Aaron’s voice carries the weight of stinging loneliness, singing, Another time to miss a birthday, before working to make amends in the end.
Aaron’s most stirring depiction of the road comes on “Anywhere But Here,” a haunting waltz that depicts the internal struggle he faces moving from town to town. With swaying pedal steel, light brushes of B-3 organ and pristine acoustic arpeggios, Aaron’s rugged voice moves through pained territory when paired with a tender delivery. The bed next to me is empty / Just like the shell I’m still trying to fill, he sings as the song takes on the dark moodiness of Staind classics like “Outside” and “It’s Been A While.”
Aaron wrote every song on the album except “Grandaddy’s Gun,” penned by Music Row hit writers Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Bobby Pinson. Showing a steadfast respect for arms, lines like, A gun’s like a woman, son, it’s all how you hold her, are a perfect fit for Aaron’s NRA-aligned beliefs. Aaron also pays tribute to the men and women of our armed forces on the Patriotic, “Red, White and Blue,” a vivid story song detailing his family’s own history of service.
The only time Aaron ventures into a more contemporary country sound is on the family focused, “Endless Summer,” which features catchy guitar hooks and a bouncing vocal celebrating fast cars on a summer night. It’s different both sonically and thematically from the project’s other songs, like the bluesy “Party In Hell,” which sings of the Devil, brown liquor and music greats from George Jones to Merle Haggard. However, these small shifts show Aaron’s natural feel for the genre, and on The Road, Aaron creates a work that honors country tradition while injecting his own soul and experience.
Key Tracks – “Anywhere But Here,” “Forever,” “Red, White and Blue,” “75”