“What in the world are we all doin’ here?”
They say first impressions are important, whether it’s the first time you meet somebody or the first time you’re listening to a piece of music. Right away Brett Eldredge leaves an impactful first impression with his new album Sunday Drive. It’s such an important question that can resonate with anyone listening. Right away Eldredge reaches out to the listener and makes a connection, inviting them into the music.
The question also indicates the start of a clear turning point in the career of Brett Eldredge. Leading up this album, Eldredge made clear that this material is much different than his previous music. He enlisted Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk as producers, the same duo who produced the genre-boundary pushing Golden Hour from Kacey Musgraves. It showed all the makings of an artist who is ready to fulfill their full potential. But yet the cynic in me wanted to hear for myself to truly be convinced. Once Eldredge uttered this opening line, I realized I was listening to an artist that is truly ready to deliver a memorable album. And then he continues to deliver until the last note is played on “Paris Illinois.”
What’s truly remarkable about this album is how it manages to capture such a broad range of emotions in a painstakingly honest and human way. The lyrics keep it simple and certainly won’t be mistaken for the complexity of Jason Isbell or John Moreland. Yet they convey the same emotional depth because they come from a place of true introspection and personal experience. When you pair this with production that is colorful, vibrant and makes the lyrics come to life, it feels more almost like a movie experience, as I can picture each of these songs in my head as I listen. The only other album released in 2020 I can say this about is The Weeknd’s After Hours.
While every song on this album is great, the two clear standouts are “Sunday Drive” and “Then You Do.” The former grapples with growth and mortality, as Eldredge reflects on the life lessons bestowed upon him by his parents in such simple moments and how their love is still strong as they reach older age. It’s a beautifully sad and happy song, showing the never-ending cycle of life and death. The latter song is a perfect description of the roller coaster of finding relationships and love. It’s surprisingly unexpected, both the joyful discovery of the beginning and painful crashing of the end of it. Just when you think you have it all figured out, then it all changes and you have to begin anew. In a world full of head-in-the-clouds love songs that only highlight the highs and heartbreak songs that only show the lows, this song manages to brilliantly capture the in-between that most people are experiencing.
While there is a sad undertone in several moments throughout this album, there are also many uplifting, happy moments. “The One You Need,” “Crowd My Mind” and “Fall For Me” are great love songs that put Eldredge’s soulful side on display. This is a side I’ve been wanting to see Eldredge show more, as his voice has the passion and warmth suited for soulful love songs. He may not have the raw power that blows you away like Chris Stapleton, but his charisma and polished delivery make up for this.
As I alluded to in the beginning of this review, “Where The Heart Is” is a fantastic choice for an opening song, as it sets the tone well and lets you know right away what this album is in terms of message and sound. “Magnolia” and “Gabrielle” are the more pop country songs of the album. The first is a fun look back at falling in love for the first time and I enjoy the descriptive nature of the track, as Eldredge describes the moment in time with lots of little details that help paint the picture. When “Gabrielle” was first released, I found it to be repetitive. But upon more listens within the context of the album, it’s grown a lot on me and fits perfectly with the theme. This song examines lost love and the lingering questions from what might have been between the once couple. I love the mature approach this song takes, not showing malice or ill will, instead taking the high road and realizing the lessons learned in order to move forward.
“Good Day” immediately made me think of Don Williams’ “Lord, I Hope this Day is Good.” Both songs see the narrator striving and looking for hope and optimism, even if the world around them isn’t looking so good. This is certainly the type of upbeat song we could use in this pandemic world in which we currently live. Eldredge’s lively deliver certainly brings a smile to my face. His bright delivery shines again on “When I Die,” another song with a great message about living life to the fullest and not getting caught up in the problems of yesterday.
There are many excellent production moments on this album, but I particularly enjoy the horns that sneak in on “Fix a Heart” and “Paris Illinois.” The catchiness of the chorus on “Fix a Heart” immediately hooks me and the redemption arc angle of the lyrics feel heartfelt instead of the mawkish selfishness that seems to permeate so many boyfriend country songs that attempt this same angle. The subdued and reserved “Paris Illinois” is the nice sentimental cap off to this album, closing with some comfortably soft horns that make you reflect on the music you just heard.
This is easily the most surprised I’ve felt listening to an album this year. There could not be more of a stark contrast between Sunday Drive and Brett Eldredge’s previous album. It’s simply night and day. Every moment on this album is absolutely enjoyable. The lyrics and production could not shine and compliment each other anymore. Brett Eldredge has never sounded more energized and is at his absolute best on this record. There’s no other way to put it: Sunday Drive is a phenomenal album.