The country singer Jason Aldean represents the rural middle of the United States as if he’s rarely been anywhere else. The songs on his fifth album, Night Train, maintain a consistent attitude about that generalized regional identity — not defensive, but comfortably smug.
Enshrining small-town life can give you an obsession with scale: The more meager the town, the more lordly the dreams. So the characters in his songs are average guys with entitled feelings. Most of his songs, which he doesn’t write, are variations on individual will as local style, or vice versa: This is how we do it out here. (“Anyone from the heartland is gonna understand what I’m talkin’ about right now,” he sings in Take a Little Ride.) Even at his most powerful, singing hard in his nasal voice — it’s got impact but not much traction, that voice — Aldean seems to be standing in for larger societal forces, usually involving quitting time and beer.
Night Train is the further refinement of a seven-year formula. Aldean’s songs are thick with electric guitar and draped in ‘80s-style classic-rock solos, sparky but faceless. (How traditional does this band get? There are vestigial drop-ins of mandolin and banjo, and no fiddle; but his steel guitarist, Jay Jackson, has a semiserious role, especially in the biggest songs.) Sometimes the idealized one-stoplight town seems like it might be in New Jersey: Wheels Rollin’ is nearly a rewrite of Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive, and the organ buried in the workmanlike riffs carries a whiff of the E Street Band.
Aldean is also doling out careful applications of rap. This started out pretty well on Dirt Road Anthem, from his last album, My Kinda Party; he may have complicated feelings about the success of that song, because he’s put two raps on the new album, and both sound like forced marches. The Only Way I Know, in which Aldean tag-teams with Eric Church and Luke Bryan, gets in its own way with cliches about small-town integrity.
There’s some more rapping on 1994, not good, but easily forgivable: This is a smart song, built almost entirely of lyric fragments from mid-’90s Joe Diffie hits. Credit the song’s writers — Thomas Rhett, Luke Laird and Barry Dean — but 1994 does remind you that Aldean is not a demographic but a specific person of a specific age. In 1994, when Diffie released Third Rock From the Sun, Aldean was 17.
The songs deliver rural details, some fresh, some quite stale: trucks, tractors, liquor, the water tower, the wrecking ball smashing a shuttered factory; the heartbroken stripper in Black Tears whose makeup runs when she cries. And the moon, always the moon. So many moons on this album. The best one arrives in the lusty power-ballad Talk; the line is, “I don’t wanna waste that moon and the heat on the hood of this Ford.” Rhythmically, the words nestle right into the phrasing. They also imply that the moon is Aldean’s to waste.
— BEN RATLIFF, NY Times News Service
Blink and you’ll miss Sky Ferreira — at least, that’s how it’s been for the past few years, as her career has crept forward in fits and starts. A Myspace rat turned would-be major-label pop star, she’s tried everything twice, some things more than that, with varied success. Unlike the young women who’ve had success during the same time period — say, a Katy Perry or a Kesha — Ferreira exudes mellow cool. She’s a pop-music semisocialite who often appears bigger than the need to produce actual music. Success, in fact, may hold her back.