The third time around, Luke Bryan doubles down on his calling card: his inherent sweetness, the warmth he has as the country boy next door. Bryan is so genial that when he implores his country girl to “shake it for me,” there’s nary a trace of lasciviousness: he just wants to be sure she’s having a good time. This aw-shucks generosity resonates throughout Tailgates & Tanlines, a record that capitalizes on the relaxed professionalism of 2009’s Doin’ My Thing. Bryan’s bright setting plays as pop -- it’s too clean and crisp, too bereft of grit to ever be mistaken as something hardcore -- but his foundation is pure country, songs that are sturdy and unfussy, never bothering with sugary pop hooks. This is a slight shift from Doin’ My Thing, which was pop enough to have a OneRepublic cover fit within the context, but Bryan retains the shiny friendliness of his sophomore set and marries it to songs that are strictly country, whether they’re a lazy Sunday stroll like “Too Damn Young,” the country corn of “You Don’t Know Jack,” the farmtown anthem “Harvest Time,” the blues stomp of “Muckalee Creek Water,” or the open-road sprightliness of “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.” Much of this is modern in sensibility, anchored by subtle ties to the past, a deliberate move from Bryan both as a writer -- he had a hand in penning eight of the 13 tunes here -- and a performer, showing that he knows exactly what his strengths are: he’s not flashy yet he’s not boring, he’s laid-back and assured, a modern guy who knows his roots but is happy to be in the present, and it’s hard not to smile along with the guy as he sings.
Tailgates & Tanlines Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine