One-half of the popular country duo Sugarland and now current solo artist Kristian Bush has made a bigger impact that I thought he would as a solo artist. His lead single from his new album, “Trailer Hitch,” he released last summer did quite well on country radio. It peaked at #21 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, much higher than I expected it to. After all it went against the grain of the current popular flavor of country radio with its good message and acoustic instrumentation. Bush’s brand of pop country is a breath of fresh air compared to the other crap on the airwaves today. This approach and style largely carries over to his debut solo album Southern Gravity too.
Southern Gravity begins with “Make Another Memory,” a song about a couple spending time together and making memories. It has an up-tempo beat with some slick guitar instrumentation. The theme of the song is a little sappy, but it’s a pretty decent song. The next song, “Light Me Up,” has nice instrumentation, but the lyrics are too cliché for me. It just feels too “paint by the numbers” and formulaic to really enjoy. The title is also repeated too much and can get annoying after repeated listens. The third song is “Trailer Hitch,” which I covered last July when it came out. From my review: “The song is about how everyone in the world is obsessed with money and material possessions (spot on). And yet as Busch points out you can’t take any of this with you when you die. As he says, you’ve never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch. It’s a great message in a corrupt and greedy world.”
The album’s title track is about southern lifestyle and way of life. While the sentiment and feel of this song means well, “Southern Gravity” just feels like a lot of clichés thrown together about the south. I wish the songwriting was better because I enjoy the instrumentation and Bush’s vocals. “Flip Flops” is a funny song about a drunk guy wandering around the streets near a beach trying to make it back home. He’s so drunk that he’s just trying to stay in his flip-flops all the while people point and laugh, taking bets on if he’s going to “bust his ass.” The is the kind of light-hearted, drinking at the beach song I can get behind because it doesn’t take itself seriously and the instrumentation is actually quite pleasant.
I just want to take a moment to point out too how much I appreciate Bush incorporating good messages throughout his music in this album without getting too sappy or preachy. And the next song, “Giving It Up,” is a perfect example. It’s about giving up addictions, demons and other negative influences for the love in your life. By doing this you finally experience life to the fullest without those demons plaguing your life. This is a great song with a great message. Bush sings about his love for California in “Feeling Fine California.” At least that’s what it seems like at first. As the song progresses you realize that maybe he isn’t so fine in California, as he reveals that a breakup with a woman he loved back in Tennessee drove him to go west. So instead of this song being a love letter to California, it’s more of a song about coping with heartbreak and ignoring your pain. I think this song would have been better if the message wasn’t so subtle.
While the cliché chorus may throw you off at first, the message of “Waiting on an Angel” ultimately proves to triumph past it. The song is about a man waiting on an angel, a woman he can call his true love. He feels like he will never find her, but by the end of the song he finally finds her. It’s a little sappy, but it means well. This is far from my favorite track, but it isn’t as bad as I thought it was on my first listen. “Walk Tall” is about standing up and pushing forward not just when it’s “daylight,” but also when it’s “moonlight.” This song has a good theme, but the lyric choices are pretty questionable at best and dumb at worst. For example, choosing daylight and moonlight to highlight good and bad times is just uncreative. Also the line in the chorus about being a man and rebel is just annoyingly stupid. I wanted to like this song more, but the songwriting really hurt it. The following song, “Sending You a Sunset,” is the most boring track on the album. It’s a beach love song that just completely loses my interest from the beginning until the end. There’s just nothing for me to sink my teeth into or really connect with. This feels like a filler song.
Thankfully Bush gets back to a more interesting song in “Sweet Love” next. It’s a heartbreak ballad about a guy still loving a woman after she gave up on their relationship. The light, acoustic production of this song gives it an easy-going tempo, which suits Bush’s voice well. This is definitely one of the better songs on Southern Gravity. The final song on the album is “House on a Beach” and unfortunately it’s the worst song on the album. All the song is about is buying a house on the beach and living a fantasy life. Of course we would all love to live this life, but what’s the point in making song about it? Bush co-wrote this song with Canaan Smith, which helps explain why this song is what it is. It’s completely forgettable and would have been better off left on the cutting room floor.
Southern Gravity does a lot of things right throughout the album. Bush’s vocals are solid and the “less is more” approach to instrumentation serves the songs well. It’s the songwriting on this album where I feel like it’s a mix bag. There are good songs on this album like “Trailer Hitch” and “Giving It Up.” Yet there isn’t a single great song that blows me away. Then there are songs that are just there and really don’t do anything (“Sending You A Sunset” and “Light Me Up”). The only bad song is “House on a Beach,” which kind of sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the album. Bush is preaching simplicity and kindness in “Trailer Hitch” and then in “House on a Beach” is talking about a dream house on the beach. It just doesn’t make sense thematically. By the way it should be noted Busch co-wrote every track on this album, which I applaud him on. But next time he needs to find better people to collaborate with, as this album doesn’t represent what he can fully do. Southern Gravity is a good album that I give a light recommendation, but ultimately I was left wanting and expecting a little more.