Never the liveliest of country singers, Jason Aldean settles into his slow stride on 2016's They Don't Know, his seventh studio set. Facing the onset of his forties, Aldean chooses to pivot off of the smoldering moments of 2014's Old Boots, New Dirt, a slow-churning intensity achieved partially through a sly adoption of electronic rhythms. On They Don't Know, Aldean largely strips away such nods toward modernity, adding some loops to lead track (and lead single) "Lights Come On," an ode toward hitting a big country concert at the end of a hard work week -- a number designed as a rocker but proceeding at the same deliberate tempo as the power ballads that dominate the album, including "When the Lights Go Out," which cleverly closes They Don't Know. Often, the question of rocking hinges on a matter of volume: the party songs are slightly louder due to the preponderance of guitars, not due to quicker rhythms or any suggestion of chaos. By marching all 15 songs to the same deliberate beat, Aldean winds up creating the illusion that he's running in place; each track bleeds into the next, distinguished perhaps by a few more or a few less acoustic guitars or, on "First Time Again," the presence of Kelsea Ballerini as a duet partner, but usually seeming as if they're cut from the same cloth. It's comfortable ground for Aldean and, strikingly, he sounds comfortable too, never singing with an audible scowl. He seems settled in his skin, knowing he's at his best in a maudlin minor key, and that shift is welcome even if it accidentally accentuates just how slowly They Don't Know plods.
They Don't Know Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine