Over the last three years, Kane Brown has emerged as a Country Universe favorite. His boundless creativity and fundamental decency make it so easy to root for him, and he just keeps getting better as a singer, songwriter, and musician.
Keeping up with him is a challenge though, because he’s as prolific as Willie Nelson at his peak. He’s writing and recording mainstream country hits while moonlighting in multiple genres through creative and unexpected collaborations.
In 2023 alone, he’s released two solo singles and three collaborations, so we’re giving him our first artist spotlight edition of the Single Review Roundup. His two most recent country radio singles – the No. 1 hit “Bury Me in Georgia” and his new release, “I Can Feel It” – bookend three collaborations from the worlds of dance, hip-hop, and country.
Here are our takes on all five records.
“Bury Me in Georgia”
Written by Kane Brown, Josh Hoge, Matt McGinn, and Jordan Schmidt
JK: Of the singles that have actually been pushed to radio– and I’m still staring at “Whiskey Sour,” obviously– this is actually my favorite of the Different Man hits. The arrangement doesn’t blend genres; instead, it takes broad strokes such that the country, rock, and hip-hop signifiers are all fully distinct in the mix.
The intro plays like Gangstagrass’ “Long Hard Times to Come” (famous as the theme song to Justified) or Hugo’s banjo-forward “99 Problems,” while the outro explodes into an electric guitar solo that rocks harder than anything Kentucky Headhunters or Drive-by Truckers have brought to country music. It all works, and it’s Brown’s capable performance that creates the throughline, dipping into his lower register to pay tribute to his roots and drawling the word “eulogy” into a #1 hit.
It’s not “Farewell Party,” but that’s not Brown’s vision of modern country music, and his last requests are just as key to understanding the genre. A
KJC: “Bury Me in Georgia” is just a notch below “Like I Love Country Music” among my favorite radio singles from Different Man, though I’ve loved each and every one of them. I was hoping he’d pull a Come On Over and go twelve singles deep, truth be told.
But I’d argue that “Bury Me in Georgia” is the best starting point for someone trying to understand Brown’s singular importance in mainstream country music right now, and Jonathan captures the essence of why this is in the distinction he makes above: Brown doesn’t blend genres. Instead, he takes unique elements from multiple genres and mixes them together, preserving what makes them distinct from each other.
In Brown’s country music, there’s room for an electric guitar and a hip-hop beat, but the most important instrument is still the fiddle, and it’s no coincidence that a fiery fiddle solo closes out “Bury Me in Georgia.” He’s curious enough – and cosmopolitan enough – to journey far away from traditional country music, but country is what he is, and it’s the fiddle that plays him out as he’s lowered into the ground. A
“Next to You”
Loud Luxury & DVBBS featuring Kane Brown
Written by Kane Brown, Shy Carter, Chris Chronicles, Joe De Pace, James Deeghan, Andrew Fedy,
Alexandre van den Hoef, and Will Weatherly.
KJC: This has quietly become one of my favorite Kane Brown collaborations. He’s in a completely different sonic element than he was on “Georgia,” which borrowed from everything but pop and dance music. The beat isn’t terribly interesting here, but Brown lays down a fundamentally country vocal performance on top of it. Change the backing track, and this is eighties Conway Twitty at its core. B+
JK: This reminds me of that Cheat Codes album that came out earlier this year, which has a bunch of country artists singing a bunch of middling songs over not-exactly-current EDM. I wasn’t on board with the Dolly Parton single off of that album, and I’m not sold on this, though this is a better-written song than that one was, and Brown sounds more comfortable in this context. There’s a sensitivity to the lyrics that is aligned with Brown’s brand of feminism, but, otherwise, this isn’t as distinctive as his solo work. B-
G Herbo, 24kGoldn, and Kane Brown
Written by Corbyn Besson, Kane Brown, Jonny Capeci, Jussi Karvinen, Golden Landis von Jones, Jonah Marais,
Michael Pollack, Daniel Seavey, Jacob Torrey, Henry Walter, and Herbert Randall Wright III
JK: The appeal of the Fast franchise is, admittedly, lost on me and always has been, so apologies if this somehow feels weightier in the context of the film that spawned it. But this really just highlights the greater specificity and superior songwriting of “Bury Me in Georgia,” and the beat isn’t as distinct as “Next to You.” Brown sounds fine, but this track isn’t done any favors by its immediate points of comparison. C+
KJC: Brown’s “My City” verse makes for an interesting counterpoint to the sundown town revenge fantasy of wealthy suburbanite Jason Aldean. After all, Brown is as genuinely rural as Aldean pretends to be.
Yet when he sings from the perspective of a city boy, he understands that we get homesick, too. All a big city is is a collection of small towns, where your entire world is a twenty block radius and yes, everybody knows your name.
It’s a shame that his contributions to “My City” are so limited because the track loses its unique perspective as soon as G Herbo and 24k Goldn take over. Once Brown is done, “My City” feels like it’s just a soundtrack cut from long-running series of action films. C
“Nothing Compares to You”
Mickey Guyton and Kane Brown
Written by Tyler Hubbard, Bebe Rexha, and Jordan Schmidt
KJC: Mickey Guyton and Kane Brown sound fantastic on this record, and that shouldn’t be surprising. They’re two of the best singers with major label deals right now, and they work wonders with this remarkably weak composition.
Brown’s got the tougher job here because that second verse is so thinly written it’s practically invisible. Hopefully they’ll write a song together for their next collaboration so their collective talent can be fully realized on record. B-
JK: No shade to Katelyn Brown, who proves herself a terrific vocalist on “Thank God,” but holding his own with a powerhouse like Guyton is a great demonstration of how Brown has grown as a singer since his early recordings. Song-wise, this is one of the best things in the catalogs of co-writers Hubbard and Rexha and one of the slightest things in either Guyton’s or Brown’s. This lives or dies by the charm of their vocal performances. B.
“I Can Feel It”
Written by Kane Brown, Phil Collins, Gabe Foust, and Jaxson Free
JK: Sort-of sampling, sort-of interpolating Phil Collins’ one great pop single is a better choice than Keith Urban’s decision to do a straight-faced cover one of Collins’ late-era powerballads, but it still feels like a step backward for Brown. Moreover, this hardly belongs in the same conversation, though I’ve already seen it referenced by more than a few folks, as Dustin Lynch’s and Jelly Roll’s “Chevrolet,” which is an outright hateful rewrite of Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away.”
There are elements of this that I like: The banjo riff is terrific, and Brown continues to show greater control and more versatile use of his lower register. The song itself is merely fine. Three album cycles ago, I’d have gone to bat for this as “promising,” but Brown has simply proven himself too good over the last few years.
I won’t be mad at this becoming a hit record, in the sense that Brown remains one of the only “core” artists in country radio’s vision of the format who doesn’t make me want to rend my ears clean off my head. But I’m also hoping it isn’t a harbinger of a downturn in the quality of what he has on deck, when there were still other should’ve-been-singles right there on Different Man. B-
KJC: I’m much more enthusiastic about “I Can Feel It” than Jonathan, but that makes sense because Kane is leaning into my favorite elements of his records here. I love this reimagining of the “In the Air Tonight” drums, and the way he incorporates explicitly country instrumentation and lyrical imagery into oh-so-eighties dramatic pop. Just in the instrumental introduction, he goes from Rick Astley to Randy Travis in two seconds flat.
The opening verse has some of my favorite songwriting of Brown’s to date: “I can see you by the bar, skinny margarita with a broken heart, so I slid over like a steel guitar.” IFrom that point on, it’s all buildup and no release. They never do get out of there by the end of the song, preserving the tension of the Phil Collins original, even as it’s placed in a completely different context.
Are there eight or nine tracks that could still be pulled from Different Man that are stronger than “I Can Feel It?” I’d say that there are. But Brown is delivering on such a level right now that even his lesser efforts are more interesting and worth listening to than 95% of what’s in rotation on the radio today. B+