Jason Aldean experiences uneasy growth

Though country music has not traditionally topped Billboard 100 Charts, many artists are starting to change that. Since the advent of Taylor Swift’s country-pop crossover and Zac Brown Band’s lovable, comforting beats, the genre has quickly gained more mainstream recognition and appreciation.

Clouds in paradise · The typically upbeat Jason Aldean gets more emotional than ever on his fifth and most mature album, Night Train. – | Photo by James Minchin III, courtesy of The Green Room

Georgia native and country veteran Jason Aldean has also made his fifth album, Night Train, appealing to fans of several other genres by incorporating strong guitar riffs and classic rock wailings reminiscent  of the ’70s and ’80s. This is all in contrast to the “country-hoe-down” songs he has become famous for, such as “Dirt Road Anthem” and “Tattoos On This Town.”

Aldean’s lead single, “Take A Little Ride,” acts as a successful teaser for the rest of his album — in fact, the catchy riffs and up-tempo beat have resulted in the song’s third consecutive week at the top of Billboard 100’s Country Chart.

The album also includes the soulful mid-tempo track named “Talk,”  which brings relatable lyrics that are soon sure to be blaring from radios: “But I don’t want to / I don’t wanna talk anymore / I know enough about you to know all I wanna do is / Find out a little bit more.”

In a surprisingly funky track labeled “1994,” Aldean manages to successfully blend country and old-school hip-hop in a tribute to ’90s country singer Joe Diffie: “I got that 1994 Joe Diffie comin’ out the radio / I’m just a country boy with a farmer’s tan / So help me girl I’ll be your pick-up man.”

The song’s prominent banjo and Aldean’s use of spoken word mark an interesting and succesful new direction for the country artist: Experimentation suits him.

The album would also not be complete without a few of the artist’s traditional, introspective tracks, but on Night Train the emotions are more mature. In “I Don’t Do Lonely Well,” Aldean displays his impressive and seemingly effortless vocal range. The song starts slow and builds to an emotional and deep chorus that presents his vulnerability and honesty.

Aldean is smart to access his soulful side. Despite his kick-back-good-time reputation and the new rock ‘n’ roll vibe of this album, Aldean proves a master of emotional versatility.

“Staring At the Sun” and “Black Tears” successfully evoke sympathy in listeners. The latter is perhaps one of the most notable tracks on the album, as it tells a moving story of a self-loathing stripper: “Black tears rollin’ down / From the eyes of an angel in a sinner’s town / She reveals, and they all cheer / And then she cries black tears.”

When Aldean returns to his country roots, however, as with “The Only Way I Know,” something’s amiss. Sure, the track is full of Southern attitude and pride and features other well-known country artists like Luke Bryan and Eric Church, but the sound feels too neat, trying too hard to fit in with Aldean’s new rock direction. Welcome as new sounds might be, listeners might still long for the twangy music reminiscent of open fields, dirt roads and rusty trucks — the kind of music you’d stomp your cowboy boots to.

That’s the dilemma with Night Train. The album certainly demonstrates Aldean’s desire to grow as an artist — in his unexpected genre mixing and especially emotional lyrics — but it doesn’t succeed as much as one might hope. The album teases the potential that his music can hold, but doesn’t always reach that potential.

Still, the ultimate message that seems to pervade the album is one of nostalgia for the country, and it’s fascinating despite the uneven musical execution. While Aldean’s previous albums have largely been about partying, young love and heartache, his latest one demonstrates a longing for a life-long love interest. Night Train is a grown-up manifesto, a re-evaluation of Aldean’s priorities and goals.

Aldean’s tour, ending on Oct. 27, sold out every show within a few minutes and broke several attendance and ticket sales records. He’s also received three nominations for the Country Music Awards on Nov. 1 for Entertainer of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year and Single of the Year. Thus, Night Train, no matter the quality, will be a commercially successful album. That it aims for new sounds and themes despite its predetermined success, makes it especially admirable.