Jerrod Niemann

Free the Music

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It's not for nothing that Jerrod Niemann calls his second major-label album Free the Music: he's stepped far outside the box, so much so that the doo wop inflections of his 2010 breakthrough hit "Lover, Lover" seem conventional. Niemann is woozy and playful throughout Free the Music, displaying an impish sense of humor by calling an old-timey shuffle in the style of Leon Redbone "Honky Tonk Fever" and generally avoiding anything that could be called classically country (the closest he comes is "Real Women Drink Beer," which itself is colored by splashy Vegas horns). Which doesn't mean this is a pop or rock album, not even with the hints of arena rock ballads or drinking songs set to looped rhythms. There are plenty of signifiers of modern country, from sunny tunes breezing in from the Caribbean to the hints of rocking country, but Niemann is more interested in the detours, adding Beatlesque keyboards as punctuation on "Get on Up" and working a thick, funky groove on "Guessing Games." Despite the attention-grabbing manifesto of the title track, this isn't quite showy; rather, Free the Music is skilled and adventurous, never succumbing to pretension thanks to Niemann's game sense of humor. More than anything, the cheerful style-bending antics of Free the Music suggest what Big & Rich could have done if they devoted themselves to music instead of schtick.

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