Album Review: Jerrod Niemann — Free the Music
Jerrod Niemann’s Free the Music is half the album that his major label debut release was. Specifically, the music half. Judge Jerrod and the Hung Jury infamously featured “humorous” skits in between the songs that grew tiresome after about three listens. This time around, the skits are gone, and all that’s left is a genre-bouncing collection of songs that solidifies his place as one of the biggest risk-takers in Nashville today.
After the album opens with the funky title track/mission statement, Niemann slides from traditional country to pure pop, with a little bit of Dixieland jazz thrown in for good measure. Niemann’s versatility makes for an entertaining record – “Real Women Drink Beer,” as the title suggests, is goofy fun, while “Whiskey Kind of Way” is a classic barroom weeper that is all too rarely heard these days. His pop compositions like “Only God Could Love You More” and “Guessing Games” are among the weaker songs. The slick arrangements sound plain when compared to the rest of the album, and the songs themselves lack the left-of-center personality that is apparent in some of his other tunes.
Much more intriguing are the horn-drenched numbers, including “Honky Tonk Fever” and “Fraction of a Man.” Now that “drums-bass-keyboards-3 electric guitar players” has been established as the typical country band lineup (fiddle and steel guitar optional but not preferred), the use of a horn section throughout the album is a pleasant change of pace. The aforementioned two songs were enjoyable, lighthearted tunes, but the addition of the horns in the mix take them to a new level. When he combines all his influences into a polished contemporary country gem like “Shinin’ on Me,” Niemann is at his best.
Despite the fact that neither of Niemann’s two albums cound be described as “conventional,” he’s still managed several hit songs in a format that’s becoming more and more restrictive every year. While a multi-faceted album like Free the Music shows both his strong and weak points, it’s one of the most interesting albums of the year.
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