We’ve arrived folks. This trend of letting outside musical influences like hip hop and EDM creep into country music has been a slow process, but with each mainstream release we’ve been subjected to more and more pop/hip hop influenced beats and rhythms in lieu of our beloved country sounds of banjos and steel guitars. And now Sam Hunt has a full-length album released via MCA Nashville. Sam Hunt, a co-writer of hits like Kenny Chesney’s “Come Over” and Keith Urban’s “Cop Car”, brings a slew of hip hop/EDM inspired pop songs on his debut album, Montevallo. This album is terribly mislabeled. For whatever reason, Music Row thought it’d be okay to slap a country label on an album and artist who brings no country elements whatsoever to the table.
To me, this seems like the type of album an established artist, with several hit albums, would release as an experimental album or a way to push personal artistic boundaries, like Garth Brooks’ Chris Gaines debacle or Martina McBride’s R&B cover album, Everlasting. Instead, Montevallo is a debut album from a brand new artist who the powers that be are trying to push-off as the next big thing in country music. What we’re given is a choppy mashup of EDM inspired music with bits and pieces of country culture spliced in to justify its mislabel. With all that said, amidst ten vastly overproduced songs and awkward spoken word portions, Hunt shows glimpses of some strong songwriting capabilities and even a few moments where his voice shines as a singer.
Montevallo kicks off with a slower song called “Take Your Time.” This song is about Hunt, more or less, just wanting to interact with this girl at a party. At first it’s just talking, but as the night progresses Hunt is smitten and wants to blow her mind (if you catch his drift), but the song is just about his thoughts and not necessarily him acting on them. The melody is fairly friendly with a noticeable piano and light guitars, and if you can look past Hunt’s spoken word verses, the writing here isn’t half bad; Sam Hunt does a great job describing the dynamic between a guy and girl in this type of situation, and he sings the chorus rather well in my opinion. It’s one of the better songs on the album, which isn’t saying much. Next up is “Leave The Night On.” This song is so pop radio friendly. The rest of this album makes it look like an actual country song.
“House Party” is about bringing the party to a girl who doesn’t want to leave and go out. This song is upbeat EDM rock with guitars and DJ Beats, and is really about a large, let’s get loud, house party. Following that is “Break Up in a Small Town” which is a terrible song. Spoken word, rapping, and trying to appease to a country audience by setting in a small town make it awful. Sam Hunt has his niche of music and doesn’t really stray too far from his style. However, “Break Up in a Small Town” is one of those times he does stray in order to try to connect with a country audience. The other time he strays is in the next song, “Single for the Summer.” This song may help Florida Georgia Line focus in bro-country as pseudo-rap/pop tunes about being horny dudes. Hunt was dumped, but hey it’s summer! So let’s forget about her because there are girls in bikinis and hot, naïve rich girls around me, and I’m single. In this song, Sam Hunt says the following line, I kid you not: “I’m out creepin’ till the sun comes up.” These country bros finally have some self-awareness!! Also, this damn song tries to sound country with a steel guitar sound popping in the mix. No, Sam Hunt. Just stop trying to be country. Stop.
Next up is “Ex to See.” Get it, “ex to see” sounds like “ecstasy.” Boy, that Sam Hunt is a clever one with those double entendres. No, this electronic drum driven song is all about him feeling like crap because this girl he likes is only using him to piss her ex-boyfriend off. However, Sam Hunt follows this up with “Make You Miss Me.” There’s some piano and string instruments in the mix, and Hunt writes a compelling story about a girl who basically has ADD and gets bored with new toys/songs/boys quickly and dumps them when she’s tired of them. Sam Hunt says he’ll be good enough to make her miss him. The writing on this track is actually pretty good with lines like “Keep a slipknot in the strings you attach.” And the best part is there’s a female backing vocalist on this track who provides some excellent harmonies behind Hunt’s voice. I actually kind of like this one. It’s not a country song, but I think it’s an okay pop song.
After this is Hunt’s take on his big Keith Urban cut, “Cop Car.” Sam Hunt’s version is much more EDM influenced and subdued than Keith’s pop country hit. Personally, I think it’s a well-written song with an interesting story, and I actually liked Keith Urban’s version, so I didn’t really mind this one either. Hunt’s production fit well behind it. Next up is “Raised On It” which is even more summer pop than “Leave The Night On.” This song kind of reminds me of Jake Owen’s “Beachin’” in the fact that they’re both bad summer songs with rapping/spoken word. The last song is “Speakers.” This song is about having sex in the bed of a truck. Though, to Hunt’s credit, this song describes how it looks and feels in the moment rather than just another truck bed party song. But the chorus feels rushed and it’s rapped/spoken, and I wasn’t getting into this one.
Overall, this album just doesn’t do it for me. I hate that this is marketed as country because it’s not country music at all. Each song is way overproduced and takes away from the listening experience. I can’t connect to the story and lyrics with Sam Hunt’s choppy transitions from spoken word to singing in verses without any sort of rhyme or reason. Montevallo is a full-fledged pop/electronic album that doesn’t belong in the same conversations as debut albums from this year like Jon Pardi’s Write You a Song or Eric Paslay. In fact, it doesn’t even belong in a conversation about country music. Sam Hunt has some good lyrics and writes with some substance at times. Quite frankly, there are some moments here where the electronic production works behind the songs. But overall to call Montevallo a country album is insulting to the genre.