BRELAND’s debut album is as innovative as it is infectious. His songcraft, vocals, and themes are firmly rooted in country, but he incorporates elements of modern pop and hip-hop into his production, making a sound that is fresh and relevant to the contemporary music scene in a way that so many mainstream country albums are not.
The album’s best tracks are the ones that lean into his southern pride and the ones that explore his own personal growth. Among the former group of songs, the biggest highlight is “County Line,” which brilliantly samples Sylvia’s “Nobody” and provides a fresh perspective to the southern small-town experience:
We drink our water from the tapBlowin’ the unemployment check Don’t got no shirt up on our backs Only a cross around our necks
We don’t sugar coat nothin’We say it with our chests I bring home the bacon Let mama do the rest
The album closer, “Alone at the Ranch,” is another track that utilizes rural imagery, and it applies it to a seductive ballad that recalls the best “come to bed” records of Conway Twitty:
Wakin’ up to Texas breakfast, make the city dwellers jealous
Then it’s back to bed for seconds, never second-guessin’ what we do
Hands in your hair, takin’ ’em south
Doin’ some things we can’t say out loud
Baby, help me understand the lay of the land
In the same vein is the refreshingly body positive “Thick,” which gives shout outs to beautiful women with dangerous curves, including superstars like Serena Williams, Kelly Clarkson, and Lizzo. After decades of hearing about blonde haired, blue eyed girls in cutoff shorts, BRELAND’s boundless enthusiasm as he sings, “Each and every ounce of it. Made me wanna shout it, I’m ’bout it,” finally brings country music to the party Sir Mix-a-Lot started thirty years ago.
Even better are the songs focused on BRELAND’s personal growth, which showcase how he is a thoughtful and compassionate man who is striving to do better. My favorite track on the entire album is “Growing Pains,” which leans into uncertainty of early adulthood and models self-reflection for a genre audience that has been taught to paper over their insecurity with bravado:
I’ve been working on the words I choose
And how I see myself
‘Cause if you can’t see the good in you
Then how can someone else?
Sometimes I still have those mornings
When I can’t get out of bed
Then I remember everything
That I believe will manifest
BRELAND’s first solo single being sent to radio is the gorgeous “For What it’s Worth,” which again looks inward after a relationship has gone south. It feels like a 2022 version of Clint Black’s “A Better Man,” with the big change being the man taking responsibility for what went wrong:
For what it’s worth, I hope that you’re happy now
And that you found what you didn’t in me
For what it’s worth, I’d trade everything I have
For what I had, I know that talk is cheap
But for what it’s worth, I done did some growin’ up
I ain’t out there gettin’ drunk, I can be what you deserve
‘Cause now I see your heart, your mind, your every curve
And your love for what it’s worth
The only thing that holds the album back are the excessive number of collaborations. Guest appearances aren’t a negative in principle, but the features on BRELAND largely distract from what’s best about the album, which is BRELAND’s charismatic delivery of his own lyrics. The only keeper among all of them is “Praise the Lord,” which has a charming back and forth between BRELAND and Thomas Rhett as they share the blessings that they’re thankful for. “Here For It” is a great opening track that Ingrid Andress doesn’t distract from, but it would be just as good without her. Ditto for Keith Urban’s contributions to “Throw it Back.” “Told You I Can Drink” is an excellent song that is derailed by Lady A. Not only does the song not work as a duet, but Lady A’s contribution itself is messy and distracting, compromising the intimacy and directness of the lyric and BRELAND’s performance.
Those missteps aside, BRELAND’s Cross Country is as promising a debut album as mainstream country music has received in recent years, showing a clarity of artistic vision and unique take on contemporary country music that similarly animated the first albums from Kacey Musgraves, Kane Brown, and Ashley McBryde. I can’t wait to hear what he does next.