Jason Aldean

Wide Open

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Jason Aldean quietly turned into a genuine country star in the back half of the 2000s -- not the kind who has pop hits, but the kind who steadily reaches the country Top Ten, primed for a crossover hit. Wide Open, his third album, might take him there, since he manages to hit every contemporary cliché in the book without seeming too systematic about it. That light touch takes Aldean a long way, as it never appears that he's pandering even though he kind of is, making sure that he has songs about small-town girls with big-city dreams, paeans to Nashville, mournful laments about his rowdy ways, a tune about his big green tractor, and love songs to the country and girls from the country. Aldean puts a lot of rock in his country, particularly on the stuttering AC/DC riff that powers "She's Country," which is a bit of compensation for the plainness of his voice, but his simple, affectless singing does disguise just how shopworn his songs are. He doesn't necessarily turn the familiar into something fresh, but his keen, plainspoken voice does ground Wide Open, making ballads feel intimate and party anthems not too rowdy. It's nothing too risky, nothing too soft, just a straight shot down the middle of the road -- a road that runs through a subdivision that only becomes memorable through repetition.

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