Mainstream country music in 2015 has seen the rise of several new artists dominating the top of the charts. Some of the most prominent that come to mind are A Thousand Horses’ “Smoke,” Kelsea Ballerini’s “Love Me Like You Mean It,” Cam’s “Burning House” and Chris Janson’s “Buy Me A Boat.” While many of mainstream country’s mainstay artists have had their fair share of success in the charts and at radio, I feel like it’s been the year of the new artist. This has yielded mixed results in terms of quality. While I don’t expect to ever be won over by Ballerini’s style of “country” music, the others have or I think can. I was hoping for this with Chris Janson by now, but both of his singles this year have disappointed me. Despite the disappointment, I could see potential in him and knew he was capable of delivering good music. I was hoping this would finally show in his debut album under Warner Music Nashville, Buy Me A Boat. Fortunately, it finally does in several spots throughout the album.
The album’s title track, lead single and the song that launched Janson into mainstream fame starts this record off. I reviewed this song months ago and my feelings remain unchanged. I’ve tried to warm up to this song, but it just isn’t likable at all to my ears. From my review: This song is a dream come true for corporations looking for a hokey country song to put in their boat commercials this summer. “Buy Me A Boat” is what it says it is. It’s a song about wanting to buy a boat. Janson sings throughout about all of the clichés about money not being the most important thing in the world, but immediately dismisses by saying he wish he had money to buy a boat. The lesson he’s sending out is that money is everything and that the only way to move up on the social ladder is buying expensive stuff like this. See what I meant about corporate America loving this song?
Janson’s current single “Power of Positive Drinkin’” is next. This song is slightly better than “Buy Me A Boat” I guess. Here’s the gist of my thoughts from my review on it: The song is about a man whose truck has broken down, his air conditioning has broken and his woman has left him. So what does he do? He goes down to the bar and drinks his problems away. And that’s pretty much it. He doesn’t allude to why she left him nor does he learn his lesson. Nope. The moral of this song is basically all of your problems can be solved by drinking excessively. So there’s hardly any meaning behind this song.
“Under The Sun” is any easy-going song with a surprising amount of steel guitar. The song is about how you should enjoy the simpler things in life instead of running out to buy the newest gadget (which Janson admits he’s guilty of too). It’s a good message and leaves me wondering why this hasn’t been released as a single yet because I think it would appeal to many listeners and do well on the charts. Janson follows this with another great song in “Holdin’ Her.” It’s a sentimental love ballad with smart lyrics and plenty of pedal steel throughout. Not to mention there’s also some organ play towards the bridge, so this song definitely hit a home run in the instrumentation department. Janson wrote this song with James Otto and it might just be the best written on the album. A song like this shows Janson has the talent to be a good country singer and hopefully more songs like this continue to be produced by him.
Tim McGraw joins Chris Janson on “Messin’ With Jesus.” It’s a perfect pairing, as their voices go together well. Both sing about how they want to stay on Jesus’ good side until they reach the other side, so they have no plans of “messin’ with Jesus.” The production goes a tad overboard, but it doesn’t hurt the song. This is a solid duet I could see released to radio. “Right In The Middle” is a return to Janson’s “bad side.” Sure there’s pedal steel guitar and it’s one of the few good things about this song. But Janson’s spoken word delivery is grating to the ears and the lyrics are just dumb. If you take the unnecessary electric guitars blaring through this song it would be easier to hear too. When it comes down to it this is just a generic and forgettable song. I didn’t think Janson could get worse than “Buy Me A Boat” or “Power of Positive Drinkin’,” but he does on “Save A Little Sugar.” It’s hands down the worst of the album and maybe one of the worst songs I’ve heard this year. This is straight up bro country, but with that era being a bygone one now this makes the song more laughable than anything. This should have just been axed from the album.
After sending a single to radio that promotes drinking, Janson acknowledges his sobriety in “Back in My Drinkin’ Days.” The lyrics aren’t bad, but Janson’s spoken word delivery rears it’s ugly head again and it’s most certainly bad. Great instrumentation in the form of steel guitar, harmonica and piano can’t even save this song from being drug down by it. It’s a shame that it gets wasted because Janson thinks he needs to imitate Jake Owen. “Where You Come In” is another song where Janson shines bright. This sounds like something straight off the good part of 90s country radio. That shouldn’t be a big surprise considering Janson wrote this love ballad with Ed Hill, who helped write many hits of 90s country. This is another solid ballad that would make for a nice single.
Janson follows this with another quality single in “Yeah It Is.” Based on the title, you wouldn’t think this song is very deep, but it’s the deepest on the album. The song is about a single guy coming across a lonely mother in the bar who’s crying and only gets out one night a week because she’s stuck raising her kids by herself. And I love how Janson brings up right away that this isn’t what you think it is and that it isn’t some “single guy trying to catch a buzz.” Instead the single guy buys her a drink and comforts her. This is the kind of meaningful storytelling that mainstream country has lacked and I applaud Janson for bringing substance like this to his album.
Buy Me A Boat comes to a close with “White Trash.” It’s a Jason Aldean-type song about an uppity girl who falls in love with a boy who is considered white trash. Despite her parents telling her to stay away from him, eventually they fall in love, get married and have kids. This is basically anthem for people who are considered white trash and should strive to rise above what people label them. I wish the lyrics would have been more poignant about it and also using the term “white trash” is a little iffy. Some are fine with it, while others are offended by it. The term can take on many definitions. Overall this song is just sort of there and its kind of ho-hum to end the album. “Yeah It Is” would have been the better closer in my mind.
To be honest I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed listening to Buy Me A Boat at times. Janson’s voice is pleasant and your ideal voice for a country artist. Well when he isn’t butchering spoken word delivery and laying on too much twang. His songwriting can be really high quality. But it can also be vague and clichéd too. It’s tale of two sides when it comes to Janson. When it all comes together on songs like “Yeah It Is,” I can really get behind him. Without a doubt he’s talented and capable of producing quality music. But then you hear songs like “Save A Little Sugar” and it’s a cold reminder that he’s on a major label with major label people around him talking in his ears. Buy Me A Boat does more right than wrong and it’s a worth a listen in my mind. There are many problematic artists in mainstream country, but Chris Janson certainly isn’t one of them. In fact he could be an artist that helps rebuild mainstream country music in the future. Let’s just hope his next singles are the quality songs off this album and not the bad ones.