Like several cups of strong coffee, Chris Young’s fourth studio album, A.M., is an electric jolt to the system. Favoring heavy guitars and pounding drums, Chris rips through 11 songs in 37 minutes on his way to hard country bliss. It’s urgent, it’s unpredictable, and it’s totally unlike any other project the 28-year-old Tennessee native has ever released.
Chris is well known for his rich baritone and neo-traditional sound. No. 1 hits like 2009’s “Gettin’ You Home (The Black Dress Song)” and 2011’s “Tomorrow” showcased classic country arrangements, slick production and a steady patience to let themes develop. This time around, however, it’s all about the immediate reward as Chris and longtime producer James Stroud (Toby Keith, Aaron Lewis) push the tempo and the volume.
Chris sticks to many of the themes that have been successful for him in the past. The difference is whereas his 2012 single “Neon” spoke to a few quiet ones down at the bar, A.M. is more concerned with throwing caution to the wind and getting more than a little rowdy. The lead single “Aw Naw” charges forward with rough, distorted power chords and calls for more shots of Patron. “We’re Gonna Find It Tonight” opens with crashing percussion and a twin-guitar attack before promising to, get it right even if it’s all wrong, on a Friday night. And on the echoing story song, “Lonely Eyes,” a passionate chorus erupts with the force of instant attraction.
Chris’ delivery is more dynamic than ever on A.M., which hits stores this week on September 17. The hard rock-leaning arrangements allow for the opportunity to constantly switch gears and match varying tempos, freeing Chris to deliver some of his most expressive work to date. “Hold You To It” thrives with an energized live feel while Chris’ lyrics pace the music. Baby, do you feel that bass line pumpin’?, he sings with a comfortable sway. Chris’ soulfulness might have gone a bit underrated in the past, but he displays rich and finely textured vocals on A.M. that drive the emotion. “Goodbye” is a well-timed power ballad with a hint of the aching blues while “Who I Am With You” stretches notes into deep longing.
Songs like the anthem “Lighters In The Air” may rock a little harder, but Chris maintains one of the finest traditional-based voices in country music; the result of which is an extremely unique take on the rock’n’roll influences that have filtered through the country genre in recent years. The title-track “A.M.” builds from an infectious banjo riff and electric guitar assault into an elastic, hard country chorus that parties long after midnight.
Though the tone might be different, A.M. is still a country record at heart. Taking an opportunity to catch his breath, Chris slows it down on “Text Me Texas” and “Forgiveness” to let his voice shine with raw country heartache. Mandolin and light pedal steel move through “Text Me Texas” as he waits desperately for a response from the object of his affection. “Forgiveness” bends a folk melody into straight Honky Tonk while Chris drops one of the album’s most precise vocal performances. Chris takes a lot of risk on this album, but the reward is his undeniable growth as a singer and a collection that buzzes with electric caffeine well into the A.M.
Key Tracks – “Aw Naw,” “Hold You To It,” “A.M.,” “Text Me Texas”